Political disorder puts Zimbabweans at risk

tsvangiJOHANNESBURG International humanitarian organisations last week said lack of political order and respect of citizens by Zimbabwes leaders was putting the countrys vulnerable population at risk as hunger and disease threaten to sweep the country again. (Pictured: Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai Says his MDC party will resume cooperation with Zanu (PF) once all outs

In a joint statement following the fallout between Zimbabwes coalition partners President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai the organisations, who included UK-based Oxfam, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSN), UN’s Roll Back Malaria Partnership and United Nations Childrens Fund (UNICEF) said Zimbabwe needs coordinated “robust leadership” to prevent a recurrence of the cholera epidemic and widespread hunger it faced last year.

“We are obviously concerned that the government of national unity continues to work,” head of Oxfam-UK’s operations in southern Africa Charles Abani said in Johannesburg last Friday. UNICEFs Peter Salama called on Zimbabwe’s leaders to overcome their political differences and “rally around the issues facing Zimbabwe’s children today, and that is access to basic services” like schools and clinics, which have been devastated by the country’s 10-year economic collapse.

Salama said it would be “tragic” if the current political impasse between Mugabe and Tsvangirai leads the international community to decide that the country is too risky to continue to invest in. Tsvangirai and his MDC party last week boycotted all cooperation with Mugabe and his Zanu (PF) party, blaming the veteran leaders failure to fully implement last years Global Political Agreement (GPA) that gave birth to the unity government.

Despite the unity government managing to restore some semblance of stability in the economy by bringing down inflation, opening schools and hospitals aid organisations still play a big role with some helping out even in prisons. In recent months, international health agency MSN has been providing food, clean water and medical care to inmates in 15 prisons, said Wim Fransen who heads the organisations mission in Zimbabwe.

“What is important to know is that the crisis is still here and there is still a need for donors to fund organisations,” Fransen said. What is known as the hungry season when food from the year’s harvest begins to run out is expected to hit the country between December and January.

Last year, more than five million people needed food aid but Oxfams Abani said it was likely to be less than three million this year still significant in a population of about 12 million.

Reports of cholera have already emerged this year in Zimbabwe. Rains expected in the coming months will overflow sewers, worsening the risk of the waterborne disease spreading bringing back memories of a cholera outbreak that started in August 2008 and took months to bring under control killing some 4 000 people.

The rainy season is also the breeding season for the mosquitoes that carry malaria. Roll Back Malaria warned in January of a possible surge in malaria cases and deaths in Zimbabwe.

Since then, said spokesman Herve Verhoosel, it has been able to work with the new government to ensure insecticide was distributed before the rains. The next step, Verhoosel said, will be getting a new generation of malaria medication into hospitals and clinics across Zimbabwe before the rains. But the new medication is more expensive and Verhoosel said Roll Back Malaria is concerned that donations to buy the drugs could drop.

“Such a political crisis,” Verhoosel said, “could have an implication on the ground.” The European Union (EU) last Wednesday asked Zimbabwe’s neighbours to help resolve the country’s political problems and expressed concern over “continued politically motivated harassment of” members of Tsvangirai’s party. The EU has said it would not resume development aid until Harare fully implements the power-sharing agreement and restore human rights.

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