Homeless and Forgotten in Zimbabwe

If the international community has focused on Mozambique since southern Africa was hit by disastrous floods, then Zimbabwe has been the main loser. More than 100,000 people were badly affected by the floods which swept across Zimbabwe's three southern provinces of Manicaland, Matabeleland South and Masvingo. 20,000 of them still remain homeless and in need of assistance.
In the worst affected areas, the water washed away whole villages, taking with it livestock and food reserves. Getting help to the people has been difficult with many bridges washed away and the problem has been further complicated by a nation-wide fuel shortage that has crippled the Red Cross relief operation.

The small fleet of trucks available to distribute aid is often stopped by water several kilometre away from distribution points. The homeless are forced to walk for hours through swamps or muddy paths to get food, blankets and tents. In Zimbabwe, there has been no foreign helicopter to help drop relief from the air.

Nearly two months after the floods hit, food is still scarce. The flooded areas are already prone to food shortages. The loss of entire crops is a cruel disaster. Siphiwe Shakara, a mother of five, is caring for seven relatives. Their home and belongings near Masvingo vanished in seconds as a torrent of water swept by.

"I thank the Red Cross for the food that we get", she says, "but they are the only ones to help us and it is not enough. The wet maize is rotting in the fields. If the rain stopped, I would dry whatever is still good for eating. But this is in God's hands, not mine."

Despite all the logistical problems, the work of the Zimbabwe Red Cross has been spreading far. Elisabeth Chinyangarara, programme co-ordinator of the Masvingo Red Cross branch, says they are recruiting more and more volunteers. "Some would like to join because they think they will get food everyday, but the vast majority are willing to help just to express solidarity."

And it's the Red Cross volunteers who are helping to spread a very important message. Their arrival in remote villages, is welcomed by songs and dances, even though at times they bring only goodwill and advice. Destitute, flood victims sit under a tree and listen - use clean water, build latrines, prevent disease. So far, the Red Cross message has been working and cholera and other waterborne diseases have failed to take hold in Zimbabwe.

Their future now depends on continued support for the Red Cross operation in the country.

=A91997 International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies