Zimbabwe: Be careful of false impressions

A Zimbabwean Catholic priest says that, despite supermarket shelves heaving with food imported from South Africa, the majority of Zimbabweans are still in need of food and basic medicines

As Zimbabwe remains gripped in the worst humanitarian crisis since independence, and battered by years of political and economic upheaval, the country's economy is in shreds.

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) estimates that half the population of 12 million people will be reliant on food aid.

Hospitals are still struggling to provide basic drugs such as aspirin and antibiotics and patients are asked to bring their own food, makeshift bandages and intravenous drip tubes.

Completely out of reach

These medical supplies are unaffordable to the average Zimbabwean and completely out of the reach of the poorest people living in remote rural areas.

The Zimbabwean priest, who cannot be named for security reasons, told CAFOD's Africa press officer Nana Anto-Awuakye during a recent visit to Zimbabwe: "Be careful of false impressions the crisis is still here. Nothing much has changed for the rural poor. Whilst the supermarket shelves are bursting with food, families continue to struggle to put food into the mouths of their children.

"Last year things were very difficult, the Zimbabwean dollar could not buy you a bread bun and now with the introduction of the US dollar families in rural areas do not have access to this currency, as it circulates amongst the very few. So still people are struggling to buy basic household items".

CAFOD's partner Caritas Zimbabwe is ramping up its emergency programmes alongside international non-governmental organizations in a coordinated programme providing food to vulnerable communities, education and health institutions.

And in light of the devastating cholera last year which is still a public health issue, Caritas Zimbabwe is also involved in promoting public health and hygiene education whilst working with communities to repair water pumps, and build pit latrines.

However, there is a shortfall in their funds. In January 2009 Caritas Zimbabwe launched an emergency appeal for US$7.7 million (=A35million) for all eight Catholic dioceses. Currently only one third of the money has been raised reducing their ability to reach the most vulnerable in urgent need of food.

Nana Anto-Awuakye said: "A silent crisis of hunger is stalking Zimbabwe. I saw what difference a school feeding programme had made to the lives of 519 primary school pupils, some 114Km outside of Harare. Cauldrons of bubbling high-protein maize porridge, dished out into what ever receptacles children could find at home.

"The headmaster told me that only a few weeks earlier the school was silent, as children were too weak and hungry to play or concentrate on their lessons."

The challenge of rebuilding the country's economic and social systems is daunting. In these humanitarian situations the Catholic Church is well placed to reach vulnerable people with life saving food aid through its network of parishes, schools and health clinics.

Caritas Zimbabwe wants to continue this work reaching people in the country's eight dioceses.

Media: For interviews with Nana Anto-Awuakye, please call 020 7095-5560 or mobile: 07799-477 541 or email: nanto-awuakye@cafod.org.uk