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  • Operation Murambatsvina - Countrywide evictions of urban poor - Index of articles

  • ZIMBABWE: UN and govt to rework text of $30m flash appeal
    IRIN News
    August 30, 2005

    JOHANNESBURG - The United Nations and Zimbabwean authorities went back to the drawing board on Tuesday after President Robert Mugabe's government raised serious objections to a draft emergency appeal to provide immediate aid to 300,000 people.

    The UN flash appeal would cover those hardest hit by the government's controversial urban cleanup campaign, but last week Mugabe refused to endorse the US $30 million request after raising questions about the text.

    Harare insists that the number of people affected by its controversial demolition campaign has been inflated, and has downplayed the impact of the operation on the livelihoods of those who had supported themselves and others by means of informal trade.

    UN officials met with their Zimbabwean counterparts on Monday and agreed to set up a joint committee to draft a new emergency appeal.

    "We made substantial progress during our meeting with the government of Zimbabwe yesterday [Monday], and hope that by the end of the week we will have a reworked text. Essentially, the Zimbabwean government has said that the current challenges it faces cannot be compared to the crisis in Niger or in other part of the continent," the UN Resident Coordinator, Dr Agostinho Zacarias, told IRIN.

    "The government also wants the new text to acknowledge that it has taken action to assist those who have been affected, and that both sides need to take a closer look at the number of people affected by the operation," he noted.

    While the UN estimates that a total of 2.4 million people, or 18 percent of the population, were affected by the evictions and the crackdown on the informal economy that began on 18 May, Zimbabwe's UN Ambassador, Boniface Chidyausiku, claimed that only about 2,000 people were affected, according to an Associated Press report on Tuesday.

    "We have, firstly, to agree on a humanitarian plan. Once that is done, we have decided to jointly assess just how many people were affected by the campaign, but that will be done while we continue to help those in need. Additionally, a joint committee has been established between the government and the UN to consult regarding the technical and administrative support needed for the humanitarian effort," Zacarias explained.

    NGOs working in Zimbabwe, who have faced government criticism for their apparent exaggeration of the impact of Operation Murambatsvina ('Drive Out Filth'), said they had expected the UN to take a "stronger position" on the issue.

    "Although it is important to recognise the political dimensions in this case, there was an expectation that the UN would have taken a more proactive role in engaging the government. There is a need to look beyond relief delivery and towards long-term structural factors," David Mwaniki, humanitarian programme manager for Action Aid in Zimbabwe, told IRIN.

    "The UN should move away from its current fire-fighting posture and focus its energy on advocacy and trying to influence government policy, especially since the humanitarian imperative should always take precedence."

    Mwaniki pointed out that tackling Zimbabwe's macroeconomic challenges was key to ensuring that the rights of those displaced by the operation were safeguarded.

    Action Aid has been highly critical of Operation Murambatsvina, and has questioned the capacity of the government to address the needs of the many thousands affected by the campaign.

    In a report released in July, the international development NGO said although it was difficult to quantify the damage caused by the cleanup operation in monetary terms, major losses across a broad front, ranging from shelter to schooling, were likely.

    The NGO argued that greater detail on the impact of the operation was required for relief assistance to be effective, and also raised concerns that current assistance was biased towards those with access to relief in holding camps or sheltering in churches, leaving the most vulnerable members of the affected population to fend for themselves.

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