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PROFILE: Zimbabwe's humanitarian situation
July 26, 2005
- Zimbabwe is in the grip of its worst humanitarian crisis since independence.
Twenty years ago the country was hailed as an African success story and
dubbed the "breadbasket" of southern Africa. Now its economy is in tatters
and the World Food Programme (WFP) estimates a third of the population
faces food shortages.
Farming is the backbone
of Zimbabwe's economy, but agriculture has been crippled by the combined
effects of controversial government land reforms, severe drought and the
HIV/AIDS pandemic sweeping sub-Saharan Africa.
Zimbabwe is struggling
to cope with a growing number of internally displaced people. The government's
widely condemned demolition of swathes of urban settlements in a mid-2005
crackdown on illegal shantytowns has left at least 300,000 homeless and
without income, aid agencies say.
Meanwhile, the ranks
of Zimbabwe's displaced are swelling as farm workers move about the country
in search of work. Refugees International said about 150,000 labourers
were uprooted in 2004.
According to the United
Nations, Zimbabwe now has one of the lowest life expectancies in the world
and one of the highest HIV/AIDS rates. Just under 25 percent of people
aged 15-49 are HIV-positive, according to the Joint United Nations Programme
on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).
And with the economy
in shreds, unemployment is running at an estimated 70 percent. Inflation
is also rampant, standing at 164.3 percent in the year to June 2005.
How bad is Zimbabwe's
the situation is better than it was in 2003 when more than half the population
needed food aid, relief and development agencies say food security in
Zimbabwe is precarious.
The WFP says it aims
to supply food for at least 3 million people in 2005, and WFP chief James
Morris has said Zimbabwe is one of the countries he is most worried about
in the world.
In July 2005, the
government devalued the Zimbabwe dollar by 38 percent in a bid to boost
Zimbabwe's exports and help the country earn enough to import more food.
But that also raised the price of imports, making it harder for people
to afford even the basics.
How did Zimbabwe
get into this situation?
of Zimbabwe's economic and food crises are hotly contested. While the
government blames the region's drought - which has caused crop failures
across Southern Africa - opposition parties and aid agencies say land
reforms, government price controls and the HIV/AIDS epidemic are also
The most contentious
of these is the government's land reform policies.
In 2000, President
Robert Mugabe rushed through a series of reforms aimed at giving poor
black farmers access to good quality land.
Under British colonial
rule and a subsequent white minority government that came to power in
1965, white farmers had taken most of the best agricultural land, forcing
black farmers onto poor quality land.
Land was an important
issue in the ensuing war for independence from white rule. After a British-brokered
peace deal in 1979, the new black government led by Mugabe began a long-term
land redistribution programme.
But by 1999, some
11 million hectares (27 million acres) of the best land were still in
the hands of about 4,500 white commercial farmers, according to Human
In 2000, Mugabe introduced
new laws that gave the government greater powers to compulsorily acquire
land without compensating former owners. The land reform programme accelerated
and by 2003 the government said about 200,000 black farmers had been given
But critics of the
reforms say the process was poorly managed and underfunded. They say the
new owners lacked the necessary capital, infrastructure, equipment, seeds
and fertilisers, and as a result were unable to farm effectively or at
Meanwhile, most of
the wealthy white farmers, who had produced the bulk of Zimbabwe's farm
exports, have left Zimbabwe, taking with them knowledge and capital.
In just a few years
the production of the country's main food and export crops plummeted.
Zimbabwe's gross domestic product shrank by 30 percent between 2000 and
According to Refugees
International, many of the new settlers cannot or will not pay farm workers
a minimum wage. The group cites reports of workers receiving as little
as $3 a month. RI also says some of the new settlers have been forced
to turn to fishing, gold panning and sex work to feed themselves.
chronic food shortages, aid agencies say it is difficult to reach all
those in need.
Why doesn't food
aid reach everyone?
food aid programme is managed by the Grain Marketing Board, which sells
food at subsidized prices. The government says everyone has access to
GMB maize. But Human Rights Watch says some vulnerable groups are excluded.
The U.S.-based rights
group says farm labourers who worked for white farmers have been barred
from buying from the Grain Marketing Board. The main opposition party,
the Movement for Democratic Change, says its supporters are also barred
from the distribution programme.
In the lead-up to
elections in March 2005, Human Rights Watch said the government had tried
to buy votes with food and had threatened to cut off aid to people who
voted for the opposition.
response is managed by the WFP and to a lesser extent a group of non-governmental
organisations called the Consortium for Southern Africa Food Emergency
But the agencies say
they have to operate under tight government controls. They say it is difficult
for them to assess actual needs because the government rarely reveals
the size of the country's food stocks.
And according to Human
Rights Watch, the government bars foreign agencies from supplying certain
vulnerable groups, including those living in resettled areas.
Crisis Group, a Belgian-based
think tank, says the situation is likely to get worse for international
agencies because the government has appointed the head of the Central
Intelligence Organisation and State Security Minister to oversee food
AIDS takes a deadly
has one of the highest HIV/AIDS rates in the world.
According to UNAIDS,
in 2003 an estimated 3,300 people died of AIDS every week in Zimbabwe.
As with neighbouring South Africa, the epidemic has had a devastating
effect. In 2003, there were an estimated 980,000 AIDS orphans, according
Tuberculosis has increased
by 500 per cent in the last decade -- the majority of TB patients are
living with AIDS.
The virus has spread
despite Zimbabwe being one of the first countries to take the epidemic
seriously. In 1987 the government set up the National AIDS Coordination
Programme to lead the national response.
In 1999, Zimbabwe
became the first country in the world to introduce a three percent levy
on all taxable income to finance HIV/AIDS activities. By December 2003,
it had raised approximately $2 million, says UNAIDS.
The government set
aside $2.5 million in 2004 to buy antiretroviral drugs. Even so, only
5,000 people - less than 1 percent of those eligible - are currently on
AIDS drugs in Zimbabwe.
External donor funding
for drugs has been very limited. But Zimbabwe is due to receive some help
under the World Health Organisation's "3 by 5 Initiative", which aims
to give AIDS drugs to three million people by the end of 2005.
The general health
of Zimbabwe's people has also plummeted along with the economy. The United
Nations says Zimbabwe now has one of the lowest life expectancies in Africa
- just 33 years. In 1970, it was 56 years.
care system was once considered a model for the region, but has come under
severe strain because of under-funding and lack of foreign exchange for
importing drugs. The sheer weight of the AIDS crisis has also taken its
There is an average
of one doctor per 16,800 people, according to the World Health Organization.
Zimbabwe is believed to have lost two-thirds of its workforce in the last
five years, including many doctors, because of the economic and political
According to the United
Nations Children's Fund, the number of child deaths has risen faster in
Zimbabwe than anywhere else in the world. In 1990, the child mortality
rate was 80 deaths per 1,000 live births. By 2003 it had risen to 123.
three million Zimbabweans now live overseas. Among the 11.7 million who
are left, a growing number have been forced to leave their homes.
In June 2005, at least
300,000 people were made homeless in a government crackdown on illegal
traders and shantytowns. According to the United Nations, another 2.4
million people have been affected one way or another by the operation.
Police bulldozed homes
and market stalls in cities across the country in what the government
calls an attempt to flush out black market traders and clean up cities.
That same month, the
head of police reported that crime figures had fallen since the start
of the crackdown.
Mugabe has said the
operation was part of a plan to build up to 1.2 million new housing units
by 2008 and help small and medium-sized businesses "grow and expand in
an environment that is supportive, clean and decent".
But the United Nations,
Britain and the United States have expressed concern for the welfare of
the thousands who lost their homes and have criticised the way the crackdown
was handled. A U.N. report out in July 2005 called the demolitions a disastrous
venture "carried out in an indiscriminate and unjustified manner,
with indifference to human suffering".
In September 2004,
Refugees International said 150,000 former farm workers had become internally
displaced. Some of the workers had been violently evicted by war veterans
who seized some of the white-owned farms. Others have been unable to farm
their new land and been forced to find work elsewhere.
To find out more
position on the crackdown on shantytowns and the land redistribution programme,
visit the government
website and the ruling Zanu-PF
party website ...health, visit the World
Health Organisation website and UNAIDS
...refugees, read the Norwegian Refugee Council's 2004
report on IDPs ...the political situation, read the International
Crisis Group 2005
report on post election Zimbabwe ...food aid, visit the World
Food Programme or read a Human Rights Watch report
on the politics of food assistance in Zimbabwe ...political support, land
use and food security by province, see Maps
of Zimbabwe on the Global IDP Database
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