President Robert Mugabe’s government has blocked a US$30-million United Nations fundraising drive to provide food and medicine to Zimbabweans hardest hit by the state destruction of urban slum housing, UN relief officials said on Friday.
etary-General Jan Egeland said the government has objected to a text for the appeal because of disagreements over the number of people affected and how to help them. The participation of some voluntary organisations that work with the United Nations was also disputed.
“It is with regret that I confirm today that I cannot launch an agreed appeal for these people evicted in Zimbabwe in the months of May, June and July predominantly,” he told reporters on Friday.
“We have not reached agreement with the government on a text.”
The United Nations sought to launch the emergency appeal immediately after a UN report was issued on July 22 saying the government’s Operation Murambatsvina, had “unleashed chaos and untold human suffering”.
About 700 000 Zimbabweans lost their homes or jobs, and a further 2,4-million people were affected by the countrywide campaign that began with little warning on May 19, it said.
Egeland said he received a report on Friday that “a sizable group of people” were being evicted right now from Eckworth Farm.
The United Nations has protested and was told by a government official that the evictions were not part of the slum clearance but the result of the illegal occupation of the farm, he said.
Mugabe’s government has defended the drive to clean-up overcrowded, crime-ridden slums, which it also calls Operation Restore Order, and has promised to help the displaced rebuild. It denounced the UN report as “hostile,” “biased and wrong”.
Zimbabwe’s UN Ambassador Boniface Chidyausiku claimed only about 2 000 people were affected and said the government believes the humanitarian crisis the UN is trying to address “is nonexistent”.
Zimbabwe also questions the motives of potential donors to a flash appeal because the countries the UN would seek out for money “are the countries that are very vocal in trying to bring a regime change to Zimbabwe,” he said.
“If they give any money to Zimbabwe, it’s for a political purpose and political gain,” Chidyausiku said. Nonetheless, the country would welcome help to address the housing issue.
Egeland wouldn’t comment on whether the government’s objections were a result of politics, though he called the overall situation “highly charged politically”.
“It has been a process with many ministers having wanted to be involved, and it’s been getting out of hand,” he said, adding that a flash appeal should be carried out “in hours and not in several weeks”.
“Hundreds of thousands of people were in need because they were evicted,” Egeland said. “It’s hard to understand why we cannot agree that these are people — whatever we call them — who are in need of assistance.”
The flash appeal would have provided money for food, health, education and short- and long-term shelter for the evicted.
While the evictions were taking place in July, the United Nations issued a separate $11,9-million (R77-million) appeal for those left homeless. Egeland said over 100 000 people at 50 different sites are being helped, primarily with food and tents.
“Instead of full-speed, we’re going half-speed, and we’re only going in the blanket area, not in the reconstruction of homes area,” he said.
The United Nations had hoped to reach 300 000 people from the July appeal, but the government never informed the United Nations where evictions were taking place. By the time UN officials arrived they had dispersed.
The UN doesn’t know if they’ve gone to rural areas, new slums, are in hiding or living in the open, “so it’s a lack of partnership, it’s a lack of information, it’s a lack of cooperation,” Egeland said.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan and other UN officials have spoken to Mugabe, “but we rely on member states in Africa and elsewhere to help us to try to convince the government of Zimbabwe to help us help them,” he said.
The United Nations is also providing food to over one-million Zimbabweans not involved in the evictions.
Egeland said the UN wants a good relationship with Zimbabwe to deal with the “dramatic situation” in the country, where life expectancy has dropped from 62 in the late 1980s to about 34 years in 2004 and the HIV/Aids prevalence rate is about 24,6%.
“We will have to have a massive program in Zimbabwe on top of the one we have,” he said. – Sapa-AP