Poverty line rises for families in Zimbabwe

The poverty line for maintaining a family of five in economically ravaged Zimbabwe rose last year to $467 per month — but without increased earnings to cover the 8 percent rise, Zimbabwe's state statistics agency said Monday.

The nation's 240,000 civil servants, teachers and government workers are planning to strike to protest average monthly incomes of around $200. With massive unemployment, most Zimbabweans survive on the equivalent of about $1 a day. Two million people are set to receive food aid in coming months, according to the United Nations.

The former regional breadbasket is struggling to emerge from political gridlock, economic collapse and international isolation and sanctions after President Robert Mugabe ordered the seizures of thousands of white-owned farms in 2000, disrupting the agriculture-based economy.

In its latest bulletin, the agency Zimstat said a family of five needed a monthly income of $467 if it was to be defined as "not poor" and able to meet its basic needs.

It said in December that family needed to spend nearly $150 on food alone to consume a minimum number of calories to stay healthy. Other expenses included housing, clothing, transportation and education and health care.

The report did not account for one expense that appears to have become a necessity even for the poorest of the poor: mobile phones. Street vendors say they need phones to help them eke out a living buying and selling their wares.

A state regulatory body said more than two-thirds of the population — even beggars and street children — own 7 million mobile phones and that inexpensive Chinese-made phones have clogged the nation's three mobile networks.

The Posts and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority reported it was investigating below-standard mobile phone services for congestion, network failures that "dropped" lines during calls and generally poor connections.

It reported that in the embattled economy just 380,000 fixed landline phones were still in use after years of breakdowns and a lack of money and equipment for maintenance.

Phone congestion was worsened by the introduction last year of $1 prepaid airtime coupons, the smallest affordable unit, the regulatory group said.