By Stella Mapenzauswa
HATCLIFFE, Zimbabwe – U.N. humanitarian envoy Jan Egeland visited squalid camps housing thousands of victims of Zimbabwe’s controversial shantytown demolitions on Monday, declaring the need great and conditions “very bad”.
He waded through the mud to reach hundreds of plastic-sheeting shelters where victims live in the Hatcliffe informal settlement some 20 km from Harare, which owners said were often water-logged due to heavy rains.
“I have … now seen the great shortage for those who have been affected by the evictions,” Egeland, coordinator of humanitarian affairs and emergency relief, told reporters.
“It is very clear that the needs are great, the needs are tremendous and the people are living under very bad conditions.”
It was the first tour by a senior U.N. official since the May demolition of the shantytowns. He kept journalists at a distance, with aides saying he wanted to hold private conversations with the victims.
After Hatcliffe, Egeland went to Whitecliff, cite of new houses that some of the victims may be relocated to. He was due to visit a third camp, Hopley, afterwards.
“He is walking around in the mud, speaking to victims, taking in their living conditions,” a Reuters witness said in Hatcliffe.
Most of Hatcliffe’s 8,000 settlers — men, women and children — have no formal employment. Their temporary shelters were erected by the Roman Catholic Church, one of the dominant religious groups in Zimbabwe.
CATALYST FOR IMPROVED CONDITIONS
A group of women ululated when Egeland arrived, one saying the cheering was because they believed he might be a catalyst to improving their living conditions. Egeland was accompanied by U.N. and government officials. A few soldiers were also in sight.
The government ordered the bulldozing of urban slums and what it said were illegal structures in an operation that was widely condemned and left hundreds of thousands homeless.
Mugabe’s government last month accepted a U.N. offer to help the homeless after initially rejecting it on the grounds the demolitions did not constitute a humanitarian crisis.
Egeland, who arrived in Harare on Saturday, met Local Government, Public Works and Urban Development Minister Ignatius Chombo and senior government officials on Sunday, and emphasised the critical role of the government in facilitating the work of humanitarian agencies, the local U.N. office said.
Egeland was expected to meet President Robert Mugabe on Tuesday, U.N. spokesman Hiro Ueki said.
New York-based Human Rights Watch has accused U.N. agencies of failing to stand up to Mugabe. It says that instead of decisive action to help the displaced, the agencies have entered into negotiations based on what is acceptable to the government.
Mugabe denies Zimbabwe’s food shortages, which come amid a continuing economic crisis that has seen inflation top 400 percent, are due to his economic policies, including the seizure of white-owned farms for landless blacks. He blames drought and sanctions for Zimbabwe’s crisis. — Reuter