Zimbabwe: Elders - crisis 'beyond what we could have imagined'


JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - Nov 24 2008, The crisis in Zimbabwe is worse than what the Elders -- a delegation of prominent figures and former statesmen -- had imagined, it was announced in Johannesburg on Monday.

"We were expecting a gloomy situation, but the situation is far beyond what we could have imagined," said one of the Elders, Graca Machel, at a press briefing in Johannesburg.

The Elders' delegation comprised former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan, former United States president Jimmy Carter and Machel, an international advocate for women's and children's rights.

The three had planned to visit Zimbabwe over the weekend on a humanitarian mission, but were refused entry. They continued their assessment of the country's humanitarian crisis in Johannesburg by meeting political leaders, aid agencies and business and civil society representatives from Zimbabwe.

According to the Elders, there was not enough food to meet immediate needs and an acute shortage of seeds and fertiliser meant the harvest in April next year would only produce a fraction of what was needed.

"The number of people reliant on food aid from the United Nations and other agencies has increased from 2,6-million in October to 4,9-million in November," said Machel.

Half the population of 10,2-million people would need food aid by January.

The trio said four major hospitals -- two of them in Harare -- had to close their doors to almost all patients because of lack of medicines and basic supplies like water.

"Hundreds of women needing caesarean sections or other assistance to give birth safely are being turned away. Staff numbers are also falling as people make their search for food a priority."

School attendance had fallen sharply from more than 85% in 2007 to just 20%. Universities did not open at all this term.

Said Annan: "We knew when we planned the trip that the situation in Zimbabwe was serious, but what we have learnt in the past few days is shocking.

"It is not just the extent of Zimbabwe's humanitarian crisis, but the speed of deterioration in the past few weeks that is worrying. The scale, depth and urgency of the situation are under-reported."

The Elders said the economic conditions and shortage of cash, mass migration and displacement were part of the crisis the country was facing.

Said Carter: "The signing of the September 15 agreement raised hopes in Zimbabwe and around the world, but failure to implement it in good faith and create a good workable power-sharing government is leading to despair and accelerating the crisis."

The power-sharing deal was signed between the Zanu-PF party and two factions of the Movement for Democratic Change.

He said regardless of the challenges all parties should make the welfare of the people their first priority and "put an end to unnecessary suffering of millions".

Machel said there was no solution to the humanitarian crisis before solving the political situation.

The trio made a "strong" appeal to the Southern African Development Community to be more assertive and urgently deal with the situation in Zimbabwe.