Zimbabwe's moment of opportunity

by Barbara Stocking Oxfam CEO
drought_2.jpgMore than half the population had relied on international food hand-outs during the hunger months of November to March.
My visit to Zimbabwe turned out to be quite a surprise. I expected, a flattened, depressed place

More than 4,000 people have died in the country's worst-ever cholera
epidemic; and the total number of cases reported is fast approaching
the 100,000 mark. More than half the population had relied on
international food hand-outs during the hunger months of November to

Instead, I found a place of new energy with everyone talking of a moment of opportunity.

Since the formation of the Government of National Unity (GNU) just a
few weeks ago, there is a real sense inside the country that things
have started to change.

For a start, a monetary economy is being reborn. The hyperinflationary
Zimbabwean dollar has been dropped; and several foreign currencies are
now in use, mainly the US dollar and the South African rand.

Goods are in the shops again; prices are falling and civil servants –
including teachers, nurses and the police – are getting paid in US

Oxfam and other aid agencies need to maximise this moment of
opportunity; to start to make irreversible positive changes that have
started to take root in communities across the country.

I met Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and found him open to our
ideas. The GNU has said one of its top priorities is to tackle the
humanitarian crisis; to stem the cholera epidemic and ensure that those
who need food get help, regardless of their political or tribal

The grip of the current cholera epidemic now seems to be easing. And
the number of cholera-related deaths has fallen, in part thanks to
efforts by Oxfam and other international organisations who began an
integrated response last October.

Oxfam has drilled boreholes and put in water pumps in vulnerable
communities, to ensure people have access to clean water. It also ran
a huge health promotion and education campaign, spreading messages
about how people can minimise the risks from cholera. reaching more
than 1.2 million people.

But the extent of damage to the country's water and sewerage systems
means Zimbabwe may face another cholera outbreak before the end of the
year. This video from my trip shows clearly what we are doing, but also
why we need continuing support:

It's likely to be years before Zimbabwe's broken infrastructure can be
properly fixed. Donors are still very nervous about funding
reconstruction work.

But Oxfam believes donors should now consider broadening support to
Zimbabwe – moving away from purely humanitarian aid towards helping
people during the recovery phase.

We need to look at longer-term funding to help build local capacity and
help communities to become more self-sufficient – especially in areas
of food security.

And we're doing that in many communities; providing seeds, tools, and
fertilizers to farmers. This year's harvest was very poor because of
limited planting, and depleted soil, so we know food shortages will
continue through the lean season this year. There's more detail on the
food situation in this interview I did with local Zimbabwean

Changes are taking place in Zimbabwe, though it is still too early to
know if it will last. But I know the work of Oxfam is making a huge

When I left the country, the young man at the security check asked if I
was from Oxfam. He then told me he lived in Glenview, a suburb of the
capital, and one of the areas worst hit by cholera. He said his sister
had died of cholera; but no-one else in his house had been infected
because Oxfam had come round day after day with trucks of clean water,
soap and hygiene messages. He couldn't stop talking about how
wonderful Oxfam was; I wish I had him on video!

Oxfam UK

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