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Zimbabwe: humanitarian situation is deteriorating

19-06-2008 Interview

Zimbabwe is facing hard times. Zoran Jovanovic, the ICRC’s head of the regional delegation in Harare, talks about the challenges the country is facing and what the ICRC is doing to help Zimbabweans meet those challenges.


  Zoran Jovanovic    

 What is the current situation in Zimbabwe, from a humanitarian point of view?  


The current humanitarian situation is rather difficult for the people of Zimbabwe. For months, the country had been preparing for the elections at the end of March. Fortunately, there were no incidents and the elections were held in a peaceful atmosphere. It was only after the first round of the elections had taken place that the situation deteriorated.

As the announcement of the official results was delayed, people became very nervous. The anxiety many were feeling finally turned into an outburst of political violence with localized incidents, to be sure, but also very serious ones. It is alleged that many people ran away from their homes, were beaten up, felt threatened by supporters of one side or the other of the political spectrum. Even killings were reported. Now we need to see how the situation develops, mainly with regard to the upcoming second round of elections set to take place on 27 June. 

  ©ICRC/M. Sithole    
  A baby receives vaccinations at Nyamukamani Clinic in Makoni District where the ICRC provides drugs and medical materials.    

In any case, and regardless of the results, the humanitarian needs will be considerable. The social and economic environments are also rapidly declining along with inflation that is out of control (more than one million five hundred thousand per cent over a one-year period). This has a major negative impact on basic health services and on the population.


 Has the ICRC been affected by the recent suspension of NGO activity in Zimbabwe?  

Last week, the government of Zimbabwe informed all NGOs (national and international) working in the country that their activities would be suspended with immediate effect and until further notice. Two days ago the government did clarify that activities such as school feeding and home based care have not been suspended. For the time being, this decision does not apply to the ICRC or to our National Society partners of the Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement. We remain committed to working with our National Society partners. The ICRC will implement its field activities as planned.

We have a long-standing agreement on working modalities in Zimbabwe with the government and remain confident that that these modalities will continue to be accepted. We are nevertheless very concerned about the impact this suspension of activities might have on the people benefiting from various programmes being implemented by NGOs in Zimbabwe.

 Can you tell us more about the ICRC’s activities since March?  


First of all, the delegation has been able to talk to people affected by the current situation and has assisted more that 800 people who have been suffered negative consequences from these latest events. It has also been able to liaise with the authorities in order to discuss the problems these people were or are facing.

We are also trying to get access to persons detained in relation to the current situation in Zimbabwe. The ICRC's approach to this is through confidential dialogue. Gaining the confidence of the authorities is vital for eventually gaining access to places of detention.

More generally, over the past three months our activities have developed mainly in the areas of primary healthcare, water and sanitation. More than two and half years ago, we launched the only primary healthcare programme ever undertaken in Zimbabwe by an international organization. In addition to the 16 health structures that have been supported for the last two and a half years, we are now supporting three district hospitals in rural areas and eight polyclinics in the high density suburbs of Harare. The ICRC’s medical aid is combined with aid in the area of water supply and sanitation in order to ensure that the centres have access to drinking water. At the same time, the ICRC provides spare parts at no charge to communities around the healthcare centres to enable them to restore to working order the manual water pumps installed in the villages.

  ©ICRC/T. Sengwe    
  Pupils of Tshitatshawa Primary School in Tsholotsho District using a hand pump maintained with ICRC support.    

We are committed to continually assess this evolving situation and adapt our response to new needs that may arise.

We are currently in the process of expanding these activities in the city of Harare, mainly in the area of water supply and sanitation, in order to help the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (ZINWA) to distribute acceptable amounts of good-quality water.


 How is the global food crisis affecting the population in Zimbabwe?  


Zimbabwe has been in a difficult food situation for quite a few years now, and unfortunately there is no doubt that in 2008, due to the poor harvest, Zimbabwe will need a huge amount of imported food. This shortfall will of course have the most impact on vulnerable, displaced and sick pe ople. Another category of people who are likely to be even more adversely affected are detainees, since the rise in food prices is not taken into account by prison budgets. It will also be very difficult for their families to support them.