PORTA FARM, Zimbabwe, 27 July 2005 - Twenty-four hours after UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special Envoy on human settlements, Anna Tibaijuka, called for an immediate end to demolitions and evictions in Zimbabwe, thousands of people at Porta Farm - a settlement 20 km from the capital, Harare - watched helplessly as bulldozers destroyed their homes, for the second time in a month.
Porta Farm first felt the full force of Operation 'Drive Out Trash' - a campaign which the Zimbabwe government says is supposed to "clean up cities and to fight the black market" - during Ms. Tibaijuka's fact-finding visit three weeks ago.
'I am desperate'
Ernest Marume (not his real name) was living at Porta Farm a month ago when bulldozers destroyed thousands of homes, including his. Around 4,000 people are thought to have been forced to flee - either to their rural homes, or to a government transit camp, Caledonia Farm.
Sixty-four year-old Marume, his wife and their five grandchildren spent three weeks in Caledonia Farm, before it was abruptly closed. He then brought his family back to the ruins of Porta Farm where he started to rebuild. Forty-eight hours later the bulldozers returned.
"What am I now supposed to do?" asks Marume. "I have five grandchildren to care for [Marume's daughter died in 1998], and men half my age can't get work. I am desperate...do something for me."
In response to the pleas from Marume and tens of thousands like him across Zimbabwe, UNICEF is providing blankets and plastic sheeting as protection from the cold of Zimbabwe's winter. The organization is also distributing 90,000 litres of water each day, providing sanitation facilities, and supporting chronically ill people with home based care supplies.
Evictions worsening a dire situation
But as UNICEF's Representative in Zimbabwe, Dr. Festo Kavishe, points out, demand continues to outstrip supply. "We have been working around the clock for the better part of two months and are improving the situation for tens of thousands, but such is the gravity of the situation that we are asking the international community to support the people of Zimbabwe."
Nonetheless, UNICEF continues to step up its operations throughout the country. The organization is now helping organize additional mobile medical clinics and planning the further distribution of blankets and shelter materials for children and their families.
The forced evictions of hundreds of thousands - including 220,000 children - have exacerbated the already dire situation in Zimbabwe. The country, which has the world's fourth-highest rate of HIV prevalence, is also grappling with fuel shortages, a growing food emergency, declining economic performance and the sharpest rises in child mortality in the world.
So what's next for Ernest Marume? "I have adapted so many times in the past years, but this time I am at a loss. I have no home, no job, and five children to feed and school. You tell me, what would you do?"