Zimbabwe: Annan to send envoy as US, EU condemn crackdown

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Originally published
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

JOHANNESBURG, 21 June (IRIN) - UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is to send a special envoy to assess the situation in Zimbabwe, where a government crackdown on informal settlements and markets has left about 200,000 people homeless.

The government has vowed to continue its 'clean-up' campaign, arguing that the operation is targeting criminal elements. The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), however, has claimed that the crackdown is politically motivated, as it has focused on urban areas, where the MDC enjoys support.

Annan has appointed Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka, the Executive Director of UN-HABITAT, as his Special Envoy for Human Settlement Issues in Zimbabwe.

"President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe has agreed that the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General should visit the country as soon as possible to study the scope of the recent eviction of illegal dwellers, informal traders and squatters, and the humanitarian impact it has had on the affected population. Mrs Tibaijuka will visit Zimbabwe shortly, and will prepare a thorough report on the situation," said a spokesman for Annan.

The United States (US) and European Union (EU) condemned the crackdown in a joint statement issued after a summit in Washington on Monday.

"The US and the EU note with deep concern the continuing governance and human rights crisis in Zimbabwe, which has led to a near breakdown of the economic situation of one of the most promising economies in Africa, and caused huge flows of Zimbabweans to flee to neighbouring countries. We call upon the government of Zimbabwe to reverse anti-democratic policies, and to open a genuine dialogue with all stakeholders," the joint statement said.

"We also note that serious food shortages are looming in Zimbabwe, and we stand ready, as in the past, to assist the Zimbabwean people with food aid and other humanitarian assistance," the US and EU offered.

In its latest situation report, the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) noted that "the 'clean-up' operation has had profound and immediate negative impacts on many urban and rural households, whose livelihoods depended on a wide range of informal activities that were abruptly destroyed by the operation".

Until the government crackdown, "the parallel markets had functioned to provide a sure source of scarce commodities" and a steady source of income for traders.

FEWS NET explained that as the formal business sector had shrunk in the past five years, "those who lost their jobs, and the legions of graduates who could not find formal employment, fell back onto the informal sector to eke out a living".

"They went into activities like commodity brokering, flea market vending, backyard furniture manufacturing, fruit and vegetable street vending and cross-border trading. Some constructed unapproved buildings in their yards, or made illegal extensions to their urban houses to create rooms for renting out. In years of poor harvest, like the current one, some members of rural households would migrate to nearby urban centres and the majority of them would find work in the informal sector," FEWS NET noted.

It said the ongoing "clean-up" campaign had mostly destroyed this informal sector.

"Not only has this campaign destroyed the livelihoods of many households, it has also rendered many homeless, as their makeshift homes were destroyed in the operation. The majority of the affected households lived from hand to mouth and had no accumulated savings to see them through. Consequently, destruction of their business operations means immediate deprivation and destitution. As a result, many may be forced to engage in negative coping strategies, such as prostitution and stealing. Urgent measures are required to provide immediate support to those negatively affected in these operations," FEWS NET warned.

After another poor harvest, Zimbabwe again faces a year of widespread food shortages; coupled with an unemployment rate of 70 percent, many of the dispossessed urban dwellers now find themselves without the means to survive.

According to FEWS NET, "Measures to restore urban livelihoods recently destroyed by the 'clean-up' operations, or to establish safety nets for the affected households, need to be taken quickly."


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