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

  • ZIMBABWE: UN envoy urges Africa to address Zimbabwe crisis
    IRIN News
    December 07, 2005

    JOHANNESBURG - UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland has told South Africa that Africa should be "more outspoken on Zimbabwe".

    In an interview with IRIN after his meeting on Wednesday with Sue van der Merwe, South Africa's deputy minister for foreign affairs, Egeland said, "We told them that each time it must not be Europe or any other western country raising issues [around] Zimbabwe."

    The African Union has been taken to task by human rights bodies for its failure to criticise the Zimbabwean government's controversial clean-up campaign, Operation Murambatsvina, which left more than 700,000 people homeless or without a livelihood when it started in mid-May.

    Earlier in the week, the UN envoy visited people affected by the "eviction campaign" in the capital, Harare, during a five-day fact-finding mission to Zimbabwe.

    Egeland told IRIN that the UN had begun constructing temporary and permanent shelters for those left homeless by the campaign, but admitted that donors had been "reluctant" to fund construction, citing government's insistence that it would draw up its own list of beneficiaries as one of the problems. Egeland said the UN would now compile the list, which has helped address one of the donors concerns.

    The Zimbabwean government initially rejected the UN offer to build temporary shelters, saying there was "no humanitarian crisis", only to make an about-turn last month. In its acceptance letter the government insisted on drawing up the list of beneficiaries, and laid down specifications for the construction of permanent brick and concrete one-room shelters.

    Addressing a press conference in Johannesburg on Wednesday, Egeland was sharply critical of the government's rejection of the UN's offer of tents.

    "If they are good enough for people in Europe and the United States who have lost their houses, why are they not good enough for Zimbabwe?" he asked.

    He said UN agencies, along with the government and donors, were now putting up 2,500 houses similar to those constructed for Tsunami victims. Subject to funding, the UN intends building 20,000 units at a total cost of US $18 million in the next few months.

    Egeland underlined that the UN could not "become a policeman", but had the "moral authority of the global community" to criticise the "disastrous" eviction campaign, which he described as "wholly irrational in all of its aspects".

    He said he had met policemen and other government personnel who had also been left homeless, "which probably was a mistake ... and they will probably be the first to benefit from the government's housing policy".

    Egeland noted that the HIV/AIDS and food crises in Zimbabwe posed a "tremendous challenge" to the global community. Last week, the UN launched an appeal for US $276 million for the country, saying at least three million people would require food aid, as only an estimated 600,000 mt of maize had been harvested, compared to a national requirement of 1.8 million mt.

    "The food security is now an exploding issue," he said, adding that the need for international aid was "big, and growing".

    Addressing concerns around access by humanitarian agencies to distribute food across the country, Egeland commented that they had "unlimited access" in the rural areas, but urban areas were proving to be "a little more complicated", as they were unable to track all those affected by the eviction campaign.

    The UN envoy said he was "relieved" that the relationship between the UN agencies and the Zimbabwean government had "turned a corner".

    "We are working very well with the government on programmes like HIV/AIDS," he noted, pointing out that Zimbabwe was one of the few countries in the world which had managed to reduce its HIV prevalence rate.

    "We are not sanctioning or voting on the government's policies here," he underlined. "We are helping people in a desperate situation."

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