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A herculean effort is needed
Davison Mudzingwa, Inter Press Service (IPS)
February 27, 2007

HARARE - ‘‘You cannot talk of halving poverty when our country is going in the opposite direction. We are totally lost,’’ says Maxwell Tambarare, a teacher in Chiredzi, a region to the south east of Zimbabwe.

He is referring to the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The first goal is to halve poverty by 2015. IPS conducted random interviews with Zimbabweans in Harare and Chiredzi to find out how much people knew about the MDGs.

For most of those interviewed, the MDGs and the target date of 2015 seemed far-fetched. The interviews show that nothing less than a Herculean effort will turn Zimbabwe’s fortunes around.

Zimbabwe’s crisis has taken on a rhetorical quality in the news around the globe. With an annual inflation rate perched at 1,593 percent—probably the highest in the world—life has become a battle of survival for ordinary people.

Unemployment is at an all-time high of 80 percent. Most of the unemployed still eke out a living through informal trading. This is despite the government’s violent squashing of the informal sector in its infamous Operation Murambatsvina.

The promised follow-up programme to build market stalls and houses to replace the destroyed stalls and dwellings is still a pipe dream almost two years down the line.

‘‘If the government is really serious in attaining the MDGs, then they have to expedite measures to correct the effects of Operation Murambatsvina,’’ says Amos Muzamani, an unemployed college graduate.

Looking at health, tremendous challenges remain. The government is faced with reducing mortality among children under five from 129 to 42 deaths per 1,000 live births by 2015. The rate of maternal mortality has risen sharply during the last 10 years due to the lack of access to antenatal, delivery and post-natal care for women, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

‘‘It difficult for us because hospital fees are too high, even at government hospitals,’’ says a pregnant Alice Makanga who lives in the capital city of Harare.

The minister of health and child welfare Dr David Parirenyatwa has maintained that pregnant women and children under five are entitled to free health services. But hospitals, citing high operational costs, continue to charge patients.

Due to HIV/AIDS an appalling 3,000 lives are lost every week, translating into 168,000 deaths every year. Life prolonging anti-retroviral (ARV) treatment is out of reach for the vast majority of those who need it, which is estimated at 300,000 people.

‘‘I have been tested but I am not getting ARVs. They always say on the radio that we will get them,’’ says Paul Mandi who lives in Tshovani, Chiredzi. The government has promised to make the treatment available by the end of 2007.

The economic situation has had a detrimental effect on access to education. Economic hardship has led to a massive dropping out of children at primary school level, which is the opposite of what the MDGs demand. Parents in Zimbabwe can no longer afford the ever-rising school fees.

In the process the old problem of boy children getting preference has become worse. ‘‘It is a matter of priorities,’’ says Simbarashe Moyo of Zaka district in south east Zimbabwe. ‘‘I buy food with my meagre income but I sacrifice other things to educate my sons. That tops the list.’’

Thus his daughter, eight-year-old Mercy Moyo, tells IPS, ‘‘I am no longer going to school. My parents said it is too expensive. I will go back if they get money.’’

The government has rolled out a basic education assistance module (BEAM) to help underprivileged children but the programme is limited to those with parents infected with or affected by HIV/AIDS.

The increase in school dropouts, which is contrary to the trend in the rest of the region, means that the poor of today will remain disadvantaged in the future.

Environmental preservation, which is addressed in MDG number seven, has also been adversely affected. Vast areas of Zimbabwe have become dongas as informal gold and diamond miners illegally dig with the hope of sustaining some form of livelihood.

The government recently embarked on a clampdown operation to curb the mining. Eastern parts of the country have been hardest hit.

Illegal miners defend their actions as the result of the harsh economic conditions. ‘‘We have no choice in this dog-eat-dog situation. We have to feed our families,’’ emphasises Marko Phiri, a gold digger in the Midlands province town of Kwekwe.

Harare-based humanitarian worker Wenceslous Ndlovu believes time is fast running out for a government facing an economic meltdown. The government has blamed the crisis on western nations for, among others, imposing smart sanctions against the ruling ZANU-PF leadership.

Fambai Ngirande of the National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (NANGO), an umbrella body of NGOs, blames the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The IMF should cancel Zimbabwe’s debt, he argues. Debt has been an albatross around the country’s neck for many years now and has affected money supply.

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