Doctors warn Zimbabwe urban blitz likely to increase disease

Harare July 5 (dpa) - Zimbabweans were given no warning of a government campaign of shack demolitions that is likely to aggravate disease, including HIV, an association of doctors claimed in a statement Tuesday.

The government's claim that Operation Restore Order was a long-held desire to provide housing for its people is "completely devoid of credibility", the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR) said.

"There was no public announcement or record of such a plan prior to the unleashing of Operation (Restore Order)," it said.

"Any government with even the most basic concern for the welfare of its citizens would have ensured that replacement housing was in place prior to the destruction of existing dwellings," ZADHR added.

Since May 19, police backed by bulldozers have demolished backyard shacks and cottages they deem illegal, as well as squatter camps and flea markets.

Human rights groups estimate that at least 300,000 people have lost homes, while an estimated 750,000 people have lost jobs in the informal sector.

The doctors' statement warned the police blitz would result in "the exacerbation of the HIV epidemic as community structures are fractured and dispersed".

It predicted "the inevitable emergence of widespread drug-resistant HIV as treatment programmes are disrupted".

The statement warned of increased deaths due to exposure and hypothermia among vulnerable people forced to sleep out in the open because they had lost their homes. And it also said the blitz would create "ideal conditions for the spread of epidemic disease(s)" like cholera and typhoid.

President Robert Mugabe's government dismisses claims the blitz on urban areas was unplanned. It says municipalities could no longer cope with the pressure of burgeoning urban populations.

The government says it will spend three trillion Zimbabwe dollars (325 million U.S. dollars) on building new houses.

A United Nations envoy currently in the country to investigate the effects of Operation Restore Order was Tuesday due to travel to the southern city of Bulawayo, where flea markets and squatter camps have also been destroyed.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) says the demolition programme is aimed at driving its supporters from its strongholds in towns and cities into the rural areas, where Mugabe's ruling party is dominant.

ZADHR appealed to regional and international medical associations to apply "whatever influence they have" to seek an immediate end to Operation Restore Order. dpa rt ds


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