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Zimbabwe Evictees Lack Shelter, Food, Water, Sanitation

HARARE, Zimbabwe, June 28, 2005 (ENS) - More than 200,000 people have been made homeless by the Zimbabwe government’s Operation Murambatsvina, or Drive out Trash, a 10 member United Nations assessment team estimates in a report issued Friday, and other estimates say up to 1.5 million people have been displaced since mid-May.


Informal trading area in Harare before the evictions (Photo courtesy ITSOS)
"The evictions have targeted especially informal traders and families living in informal settlements, including women with HIV/AIDS, widows, children with disabilities and HIV/AIDS orphans. Many evictees, including women, are reported to have been beaten by police. The evictees have been given no prior notice, no opportunity to appeal and no opportunity to retrieve property and goods from homes and shops before their destruction," wrote the 10 UN Special Rapporteurs on human freedoms and rights.

"Government trucks have transported some people to transit camps, far away from public facilities or from any commercial or other employment opportunities," their report states. "With the exception of a few inadequate transit camps, there is no evidence that the government has explored any alternatives to the evictions or offered adequate alternative housing and most evictees have been left completely homeless."

Two children have died in the destruction. Zimbabwe's official "Herald" newspaper reported Thursday that an 18 month old child died after being buried beneath the rubble of bulldozed buildings in Harare's Chitungwiza township on Sunday. Another baby died earlier this month in a similar manner.

It is winter in Zimbabwe and the temperature hits zero overnight. Most displaced people are living in the open with no shelter, food, water or sanitation facilities, and aid agencies are scrambling to reach them.

The UN Children's Fund, UNICEF, says its workers now have access to most sites across the country and in co-ordination with various ministries, NGOs and churches are distributing water and sanitation equipment, health supplies, blankets and plastic sheeting.


This 13 year old girl hugs a blanket provided by UNICEF. Her Harare home was smashed by government bulldozers. (Photo courtesy UNICEF)
UNICEF said it is "virtually impossible to reach all those affected." The agency estimates 150,000 children are affected by the evictions and that huge numbers of children are now out of school.

UNICEF Zimbabwe is "critically short of funds" to deal with the current situation, and UNICEF is seeking US$2.7 million to continue with all existing activities, while delivering expanded and urgent health packages, HIV prevention and care, and to place social workers in key areas.

“We now hope that the operation will not be expanded without greater deliberation on short-term strategies to assist thousands of displaced children,” said Dr. Festo Kavishe, the UNICEF representative in Zimbabwe. “Schooling offers not only an education but also stability; it is critical we get children back in school as soon as possible.”

Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka, chief of the UN agency for human settlements, expects President Mugabe to receive her within 24 hours, a UN spokesman said today. "We have been informed that she will meet with President Mugabe within the next 24 hours," Stephane Dujarric told journalists at UN Headquarters.

As a result of an agreement between Mugabe and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Tibaijuka arrived in Zimbabwe on Sunday. With her eight-member team, Tibaijuka will assess the human rights impact of the evictions and estimate the humanitarian needs of those affected.


Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka of Tanzania, executive director of UN-HABITAT, is the UN Secretary-General’s special envoy for human settlements issues in Zimbabwe. (Photo courtesy UN-HABITAT)
s The army is now taking over the operation, Zimbabwe Defence Forces Major-General Amoth Chingombe announced Friday, although the government last week formed a reconstruction committee of nine ministries.

The Mugabe government says it has committed Z$1 trillion (US$110.9 million) to the reconstruction program. Minister of Foreign Affairs Ambassador Simbarashe Mumbengegwi released the budget figure to reporters Monday after a briefing with diplomats from Non-Aligned Movement countries.

"The demolition phase of the operation was coming to a conclusion and was being overtaken by the reconstruction phase," he told the state-run "Herald" newspaper.

Mumbengegwi said it is for this reason that the government has "no objection" to accepting the visit by Tibaijuka, "so that the true picture can come out."

Speaking at a police graduation ceremony Thursday, President Robert Mugabe praised police who torched and bulldozed tens of thousands of homes and shops. State radio quoted the 81 year old leader as saying he was "happy that a new breed of organized entrepreneurs will emerge."

The operation has hit those already living on the margins hard - those burdened by the effects of the HIV/AIDS epidemic that affects 25 percent of all Zimbabweans, severe food shortages, and an economy in decline.


Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe has been in power since 1980. (Photo courtesy UN)
Mugabe's political opposition, which represents the urban poor, says its constituents are the "trash" being punished for voting against Mugabe's party in recent parliamentary elections.

The UN World Food Programme "still aims to try to assist between three and four million people," spokesman Michael Huggins told ENS today. The world's largest humanitarian agency reached agreement with the Mugabe government June 1 to distribute food, the first food aid the government has allowed since 2003.

WFP is assisting some of the most vulnerable displaced with food, which is being distributed by the International Organization for Migration and church groups.

"Most are destitute and living out in the open without clean water and sanitation," Huggins said. "Aid agencies are limited to the response we can give but assistance is reaching them. The humanitarian community clearly needs to do more, especially as it is winter and there was only a meager supply of food available even before this latest development."

"The onus is clearly on the government to help these people resettle as they are the ones that have caused this tragedy," he said.

At least 200 international human rights and civic groups demanded Thursday that Zimbabwe stop the campaign. They urged Zimbabwe's neighbors to take action against the country at an African Union meeting that opened today in Libya.

But on Friday African Union (AU) spokesman Desmond Orjiako expressed support for the Mugabe government's effort to "ensure Harare does not turn into a slum." He said it is "not proper" for the AU to interfere in Zimbabwe's internal affairs.


G8 Foreign ministers in London June 23. (Left to right front row) French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy, Secretary Rice, U.K. Foreign Minister Jack Straw, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer. (Left to right back row) Canadian Assistant Deputy Minister Jim Wright, Japanese Foreign Minister Nobutaka Mochimura, Italian Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini, Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn, EU High Representative Javier Solana, EU Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner. (Photo by Richard Lewis courtesy U.S. State Department)
In London Thursday for a meeting with her G8 counterparts, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice said the Group of Eight foreign ministers "discussed the current situation and the ongoing police operations, which have reportedly left thousands of the most vulnerable homeless and destitute."

Rice termed the events in Zimbabwe "tragic," and "outrageous."

"We called on the government of Zimbabwe to abide by the rule of law and respect for human rights," Rice said.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw Jack Straw said, "Zimbabwe is of profound concern," and he called on African leaders, "not to continue to turn a blind eye to what is going on in Zimbabwe."

"This is a situation of serious international concern," Straw said, "and no government who subscribes to human rights and democracy should allow this kind of thing effectively to go on under their noses."