Red Cross assists the most vulnerable in Zimbabwe

by Varaidzo Dongozi, Zimbabwe Red Cross and Tapiwa Gomo in Harare

"All I need now are blankets for my 19-year-old boy," said Maria Ndlovu of Kuwadza high density suburb. "It is culturally unacceptable for me to share the same blankets with a boy of his age."

Mrs. Ndlovu, a mother of five, is among thousands of families who lost what used to be their homes in the Zimbabwe government's current 'clean-up' exercise.

Her eldest son, who is currently attending a local high school, was not spared either. The small cabin given to him by a local church was also destroyed. Mrs. Ndlovu, her five children, a widowed sister and her two children now have to sleep in one room offered by her friends.

She looked tired as she arrived at the Zimbabwe Red Cross Society offices to look for assistance. She had walked several kilometres from her place to ask for blankets and accommodation for her children, especially the eldest son.

"I can't afford to withdraw him from school now because he is just about to sit for his exams," she explains. She also fears that there are very high chances of contracting infectious diseases such as tuberculosis as the house they are living in is over crowded.

Mrs. Ndlovu's small snack-shop, her only source of income to buy food, pay school fees, and support the family, was also caught in the 'clean-up' operation. There seems to be no immediate solution in sight apart from going back to her communal area.

Hers is one of the many cases that Zimbabwe Red Cross Society is faced with at their provincial and national offices as many people flock to look for assistance.

With the situation still unfolding, the total number of people affected is not yet clear, but the UN estimates that more than 200,000 families have been affected and are in need urgent assistance.

Although the situation remains fluid, the Zimbabwe Red Cross Society has put in place contingency measures to respond to the humanitarian needs of the affected people.

"Having realized the humanitarian needs of some of the affected populations since the beginning of the operation, the Zimbabwe Red Cross Society, with the support of the International Federation and the International Committee of Red Cross, dispatched a consignment of blankets, soap and other essentials to our provincial offices with which to begin a short term response to meet the immediate needs of the most affected people," said Mrs Emma Kundishora, the Zimbabwe Red Cross Society Secretary General.

Some of the affected populations are being kept in transit camps in different parts of the country awaiting relocation to either their communal areas or alternative places. The Zimbabwe Red Cross society is coordinating the management of the humanitarian activities in many of these camps to ensure that their humanitarian requirements are met.

Recently the International Federation, through its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund released 100,000 Swiss francs (US$ 78,000 or €64,600) to finance the purchase of non-food items which include blankets, clothes, soap, kitchen sets and jerry cans which are being distributed to the needy families.

"We also distributed clothes worth Z$640 million to vulnerable children, men and women at Caledonia farm in Harare. This forms part of the response package given to us by the Danish Red Cross society," Kundishora explained.

She added that the Red Cross was also going to distribute clothes to other vulnerable groups located at various camps in other parts of the country.

"We are now taking a coordinating role in some holding camps in the country which includes Bulawayo in Matabeleland central and Mutare in Manicaland," said Karikoga Kutadzaushe, Zimbabwe Red Cross society national programmes coordinator.

"We will be coordinating response activities in the camps reporting to the social services subcommittees. The coordination with other organizations such as the UN agencies is excellent at the moment," he added.