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Zimbabwe: new health programme mirrors regional humanitarian mission

15-09-2006 Feature

The ICRC’s regional delegation in Harare covers six southern African countries, with the primary aim of promoting international humanitarian law. But in mid-2006, amid continuing economic and humanitarian difficulties within Zimbabwe itself, it launched a health care programme in three provinces.

The ICRC has begun a programme to assist 16 health structures in the most isolated communities in Manicaland, Masvingo and Matebeleland, by ensuring safe water and waste disposal, as well as essential medicines.

A survey, conducted in the three provinces and completed in June, revealed that the water supply to health facilities was erratic due to the breakdown of equipment and to the lack of power for water pumps. Waste management is also a problem since most clinics lack closed pits and others are without incinerators to dispose of refuse.

To overcome the problem, the ICRC programme will drill boreholes and install simple pumps that require little maintenance to supply the health centres with safe water.

It will improve waste disposal by digging at least one closed pit in each facility, as well as equipping the clinics with incinerators. And it will provide communities with the materials and guidance necessary to get latrines working in the centres.

  Children receiving vaccinations at an ICRC-supported health centre.    

 Medicines lacking  

The ICRC will also provide the health facilities with medicines and other supplies that the survey found to be lacking.

The health system in Zimbabwe, after having been one of the best on the continent, is falling apart due to the financial challenges facing the state and the breakdown of communication systems. The ICRC is assisting 16 health facilities in remote rural areas which are particularly hard-hit by the country's woes. It plans to gradually expand its assistance to 32 centres by 2007.

This remains a drop in the ocean when compared with the scale of the problems, however, ICRC is targeting the most deprived areas to ensure that it has a significant impact. It equips these centres with all the materials and medicine they need to function. The list of items is long, and includes vaccinations for babies and pregnant women against tetanus, measles, whooping cough, tuberculosis, polio, diphtheria, hepatitis, stethoscopes, basic operating equipment, sterilization materia l, disinfectant, tensiometers, syringes, plasters, etc.

The ICRC is also refurbishing sanitation systems, building or repairing latrines, and providing cleaning materials and products. The ICRC is supporting health information systems by revitilizing communication systems: delivering information, reports and statistics from remote areas to the Ministry of Health to keep it abreast of the status of health systems and to compile more reliable statistics.


This new operation follows assistance given to hospitals to help offset increasing problems in the health sector over the past couple of years. During that time, the ICRC also distributed essential relief to people affected by internal violence.

The ICRC’s broader focus in the region covers a range of activities that include visiting detainees, promoting the application of international humanitarian law, restoring contact between people separated by conflict and strengthening the working capacity of National Red Cross Societies.

In Namibia, the ICRC visits 131 detainees held in connection with the Caprivi uprising in 1999, and makes it possible for their families to visit them as well

( see article ). Visits to detainees are also carried out in Botswana and Zambia (five and six visits respectively in 2005).

 Tracing work  

The ICRC will continue its activities in Namibia despite closing its Windhoek office in April 2006; work will now be coordinated directly from Harare.

As part of the closure, the ICRC t ransferred its tracing programme to the Namibia Red Cross, training and equipping a local officer to carry on the work. The ICRC will continue to provide technical support as necessary.

  Reuniting families separated by war is a cornerstone of the ICRC's work.    

The Harare regional delegation, in conjunction with the ICRC’s delegation in Bujumbura, facilitated the reunification of a Rwandan family in Harare in March 2006. A Rwandan woman in Harare was reunited with her two children, her younger sister and one nephew from whom she had been separated in September 2005 in Tanzania.


In the first half of 2006, the ICRC sought to help national Red Cross societies i n the region to make tracing services available to all who need them. Efforts are particularly needed to extend this work in Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

  Red Cross Messages    
  In cooperation with the national Red Cross societies in the region, between 1 January and 30 June 2006 the ICRC organized the exchange of some 9,000 Red Cross Messages between civilians throughout the six countries covered by the delegation.   Red Cross Messages are exchanged between family members forced apart by armed conflict or internal disturbances. They help ease the pain of family separation, enabling relatives to get back in touch when no other means are available.    

The ICRC seeks to strengthen the performance of national Red Cross societies through institutional support, training, and funding of staff and programmes, particularly in fields related to the promotion of humanitarian law and communication of Red Cross principles and activities.

 Peace-keeping efforts  

Since the ICRC is active in Africa's war zones and supports initiatives to train peace-keeping forces, it has been working to integrate humanitarian law into institutions and programmes responsible for these activities.

It gave lectures on humanitarian law in 2006 at the Southern African Development Community (SADC) regional peace-keeping training centre in Harare. It was also invited to attend two African Union workshops on peace support programmes.


Stude nts are another key target group concerned by humanitarian law, and the ICRC has given lectures to students at the law and politics faculties at the University of Zimbabwe. A more specialized lecture – IHL in Africa – was given at the university’s Centre for Defence Studies. Most of the students at the centre are members of the armed forces or may later join the military or related departments in the civil service.

The ICRC has been especially active in making humanitarian law known among soldiers in Zimbabwe. In the first half of 2006 it was involved in two major training events organised by the Staff College, which gathers officers from throughout the SADC region: the joint command course and the junior staff course.

On both occasions the ICRC, given its expertise in this field, was invited to supervise the modules on international humanitarian law.

  Contact   the ICRC’s regional delegation in Harare to find out more   Regional Delegation Harare - ICRC maps