MCC blanket distributions begin in Zimbabwe

BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe - Distributions of blankets funded by MCC began in late July but are being hampered by the government's eviction of displaced people from churches where they were being sheltered.
MCC has provided $75,710 Cdn./$60,000 U.S. to purchase 5,000 blankets for some of the thousands of families left homeless by a "cleanup" operation the government describes as targeting illegal settlements and informal traders. United Nations officials say the operation has done a "catastrophic injustice" to up to 700,000 of Zimbabwe's poorest residents.

So far, at least 546 blankets have been distributed to families being assisted by Bulawayo churches. Additional distributions were disrupted when government officials raided churches to move displaced people to transit camps. Four Brethren in Christ (BIC) churches were affected, with displaced people removed from Lobhengula Brethren in Christ Church hours after they received blankets.

The displaced people have now been moved from transit camps and dispersed into rural areas, and Doris and Jethro Dube, MCC Zimbabwe representatives, report that church leaders are working to determine how to best trace people and meet their emergency needs as the situation changes.

"It's become very complicated," said Jethro Dube. "The dynamics of the situation on the ground have changed a great deal."

MCC is continuing to monitor the situation to determine how to respond to the needs of the people who have lost their homes, and the Dubes report that some of the funding for blankets may need to be used for food and agricultural items for families resettled into the countryside.

Zimbabwe is facing an impending drought, almost no harvest and a collapsed economy. Particularly in rural areas, many residents are already short on food, and the Dubes say church leaders fear the plight of displaced families moved to outlying areas will be dire.

Moreover, the country has been plagued for months by severe fuel shortages. People throughout the country are forced to walk to work, and travel is extremely difficult. Getting fuel to deliver aid of any sort to outlying areas will be a tremendous challenge, according to the Dubes.

In describing the situation and church leaders' exhaustion in trying to respond, Doris Dube asks for prayers from supporters in the church community worldwide. "Let your love flow to us. That's what we need the most," she said.