"At close of 2008, only six percent of the population was formally employed, down from 30% in 2003," said a report from the UN’s Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
Out of the country’s 12 million people, only 480 000 have formal jobs, down from 3.6 million in 2003, the report said.
"The most obvious indicator of the current decline is the staggering inflation rate," last estimated at 231 million percent in July, it said.
The new data was contained in an appeal by OCHA for 35 agencies working in the country, seeking $550m to assist the 5.1 million Zimbabweans in need of food aid.
The once-dynamic economy has shrunk by more than 45% over the past five years, leaving half of Zimbabwe’s urban population relying on remittances from friends and family overseas, the report said.
An estimated three million Zimbabweans have fled the country’s economic and political instability, and are now supporting their families with both cash and food.
"Importantly, in 2008 remittances from Zimbabweans in neighbouring countries – South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, Namibia and Mozambique – were in the form of food and essential household commodities, as well as cash," the report said.
The economic collapse has also made it difficult for aid agencies to work in Zimbabwe, it added, citing high prices for supplies, troubles ensuring payment of salaries, spotty access to food for staff and fuel shortages.
Adding to Zimbabwe’s woes are consecutive years of drought and a land reform programme launched in 2000, in which some mostly 4 000 white-owned commercial farms were seized and redistributed to blacks.
The scheme has punched a gapping hole in agricultural production, which once accounted for 40% of the economy, as most of the new beneficiaries lack both farming equipment and expertise.