UK relief agency launches Zimbabwe emergency appeal

UK relief and development agency Tearfund is launching an emergency appeal to support Zimbabwe churches bringing help to the poorest families affected by Zimbabwe's spiralling crisis. Many have gone without food for weeks with even basic items unavailable in shops. The World Food Programme has warned that over three million people are at risk of severe food shortages.

"People are living on nothing more than cups of tea with the last of their maize meal now gone," says Peter Grant, Tearfund's International Director. "Churches are working tirelessly to bridge the gap, meeting the acute need. Despite the spiralling economic crisis they are bringing relief and hope. But they urgently need our help for this work to continue. That's why Tearfund is appealing."

The crisis in Bulawayo has seen people scavenging for filthy water from hand dug pits and broken pipes. Of the five reservoirs that supply Zimbabwe's second largest city, four are now decommissioned having run dry.

Tearfund has already provided funding for Churches in Bulawayo who are managing 20 water distribution tanks (5000 litres each). More tanks are needed to supply communities with essential clean water when the mains supply is cut to just a few hours a week. "This is a desperate situation," says Mannymore, a church pastor in Bulawayo's western suburbs. "They need water. We have taken the responsibility of the government, making sure there is enough food and water. But it's very difficult.

"We are thirsty for everything now. When people hear about maize meal the whole community will come to the place. The situation is terrible. There is no food - just no food."

Tearfund partners with churches and Christian agencies in Zimbabwe, working through a strong network of volunteers that are in close contact with communities. This enables food aid to get to families and individuals who desperately need help, often in remote areas, regardless of political, tribal or religious affiliations.

Margaret (74) lives in a sun-parched rural district about 70kms south of Bulawayo. The riverbeds are completely dry after the rains failed last year. She cares for four grandchildren, orphaned when her two sons died from Aids related illnesses. The grandchildren's mothers fled to South Africa in their desperation. Some four million Zimbabweans have left the country, the vast majority crossing the Limpopo River in a steady yet precarious exodus to South Africa.

Margaret says that her husband raises a little money from fixing pots and utensils only to find nothing to buy in the store 5kms away. "I feel quite angry. I don't have any soap to wash the children before school and we don't even have any food. We have been surviving on melons for two months, we have nothing else." One of her children, Thandolwenkosi (6), is sick showing signs of chronic malnutrition. "She was supposed to go to school today but she is too hungry to go," Margaret explains. "I feel that death is looming for us if we don't get food."

The economic crisis situation in Zimbabwe is affecting everyone with extreme inflation now reported at over 7000% and unemployment exceeding 80%. Basic services such as public transport, medical care and education have become unaffordable. Lines of vehicles wait for days, in queues a mile long, for fuel tankers to cross the border from Botswana. What remains of Zimbabwe's civil infrastructure has suffered systematic neglect over the last three years.

"The churches that we work with remain an apolitical voice in civil society standing against the injustice," adds Peter Grant. "We support them, committed to fighting the poverty that is no longer affecting only the poorest in society. Zimbabwe doesn't have to be like this."

Tearfund is appealing to the British public and churches to support relief work that must be increased to avoid an intensifying food and water crisis that will put lives at risk.