Zimbabwe: Mass evictions leave thousands of children homeless

By James Elder
HARARE, Zimbabwe, 15 July 2005 - Unlike many thirteen-year-olds, Sirinko didn't celebrate when he was forced to miss his mid-year exams. Two weeks ago he returned home from school to find his home - and scores around it - reduced to rubble.

He hasn't been able to return to school since, causing him to miss the tests: "My father still works, but I must now stay at home and look after what we have left," he says of his bed, cupboards, and pots and pans. I think I would have done well in my exams, particularly maths, but maybe it is just as well; my books were burnt and they were all I had to study from," he adds.

Sirinko is one of more than 150,000 children made homeless by the Zimbabwe Government's Operation Murambatsvina, aimed at "cleaning up cities and fighting the black market across Zimbabwe." Current estimates are that more than half a million people have been made homeless. The situation has been exacerbated by the fact that Zimbabwe is in the midst of its worst economic crisis since independence in 1980, and is struggling to combat the HIV/AIDS pandemic, drought and the world's fastest rise in child mortality.

National statistics are grim, but it's the winter weather that worries Sirinko most immediately: "Everyone here seems to have the flu. It's just so cold. This morning I woke up and there was frost on my blanket," he says. In Zimbabwe, winter runs from May through September.

In the rubble of where his home once stood, Sirinko sleeps under two blankets given to him by UNICEF, some of the more than 10,000 blankets that have thus far been distributed. Additionally, UNICEF has provided more than nine miles worth of plastic sheeting for emergency shelter, thousands of water containers, buckets and cooking pots, and is distributing around 80,000 litres of water each day. But despite the enormity of the relief operation, demand continues to outstrip supply.

"The sheer enormity of the need - for we are talking across all corners of this country - means we are stretched from morning to night," says UNICEF's Representative in Zimbabwe, Dr. Festo Kavishe. "Thankfully staff have risen to the challenge, and we have received blessed funds from [UNICEF's] National Committees in Ireland, Germany, the US, the UK and Sweden. These have enabled us to keep our word to the people of Zimbabwe. But there are still tens of thousands of children who need to see - and feel - UNICEF in their lives," he explains.

As the sun sets and the cold sweeps in on another Zimbabwean winter's day, Sirinko looks out across what he must now call home. "My father said I must be patient," says Sirinko, "but I want to go back to school and I want to see my friends...and I want to win the maths prize."