Zimbabwe: improving detainees’ living conditions and re-building livelihoods for the most vulnerable

03-11-2009 Operational Update

The dire economic situation, compounded by the political violence in Zimbabwe in 2008, has left many people increasingly vulnerable. This is an overview of the ICRC’s main activities in Zimbabwe since the beginning of 2009.

 Improving conditions of detention  

In cooperation with the Zimbabwe Prison Services, the ICRC has taken steps since April to improve conditions of detention in prisons countrywide and support the Zimbabwe prison authorities and structures. It is helping improve the nutritional situation, food supply and cooking capacity in prisons, and providing clothing, blankets and hygiene items. It is improving water and sanitation conditions and boosting preparedness in the event of cholera outbreaks. The organization is also developing projects to improve detainees’ access to health care.

 Empowering small-scale farmers  

Following the deterioration of the economic situation in Zimbabwe and increasing impoverishment in rural areas, the ICRC increased the number of beneficiaries of its agricultural assistance programme from 5,000 to 12,700 vulnerable families (63,500 people) in Mashonaland, north-east of the capital, Harare.

From July to August, the ICRC, in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture, conducted training sessions for farm workers from 17 selected villages where the organization is implementing the programme. The aim of the sessions is to promote sound agricultural practices and enable poorer farmers to boost their agricultural production.

The be neficiaries selected include vulnerable families in the community, including people affected by political violence in 2008, whose livelihoods have suffered as a result of the economic hardship. In October the families were provided with enough high quality maize, sorghum and leguminous seed and fertilizers to cultivate crops over 1. 33 acres of land. They also received a food ration to prevent consumption of the seed.

 Improving access to healthcare and clean water  

The ICRC is working to improve access to quality healthcare and clean water for rural and urban communities in Zimbabwe. The organization currently assists 11 clinics and two district hospitals in two rural districts (Chivi in the south and Tsholotsho in the west) as well as 12 policlinics in the densely populated areas of Harare with drugs and consumables. The ICRC is also working to repair infrastructure and water and sanitation facilities of the clinics it supports.

The ICRC works with the District Development Fund, the rural development arm of the government, in ensuring that communities in Tsholotsho and Mbire districts have access to potable water. Furthermore, it is cooperating with the City of Harare at the Morton Jaffray Water Treatment Plant to improve access to safe drinking water for residents of Harare and its suburbs by providing spare parts, pumps, and laboratory equipment.

 Promoting international humanitarian law in the region  

Throughout 2009, the ICRC has assisted the Zimbabwe Defence Forces in improving knowledge of, and respect for international humanitarian law (IHL). Between January and September, the ICRC gave presentations on basic IHL to over 500 officers and soldiers of the Zimbabwe National Army at its training institutions in Bulawayo, Gweru, Harare and Nyanga. The presentations also emphasized modern military commanders’ responsibility to comply with IHL.

In September, the ICRC delegations in Harare and Pretoria deployed a team of 12 personnel to take part in the first Southern African Development Community (SADC) multi-dimensional peacekeeping exercise (codenamed Exercise Golfinho), which was held in Lohatlha, South Africa. The exercise was designed to test the ability of SADC to respond effectively to a complex emergency. During the exercise, held in the fictitious'Republic of Lohatlha', the ICRC simulated the full range of the activities it carries out in a situation of armed conflict, such as visiting and assisting displaced people, assessing the treatment of detainees held in connection with the conflict and raising awareness of IHL among armed forces participating in the conflict.

As a prelude, the ICRC had trained 50 police instructors from the SADC police contingents preparing to participate in Exercise Golfinho during the SADC Police Component’s Course on Peace Support Operations in Otse, Botswana. The ICRC also trained 12 senior SADC military officers from 11 countries at the annual ICRC-SADC Workshop in July in Harare.