[This report does not necessarily reflect
the views of the United Nations]
JOHANNESBURG, 21 December (IRIN) - UN Resident Coordinator Agostinho Zacarias has expressed surprise at the Zimbabwean government's criticism of a model house built by the UN for those left homeless by the controversial Operation Murambatsvina.
The official Herald newspaper quoted Local Government Minister Ignatius Chombo as saying that the UN was told to "follow set guidelines but they went ahead and built this sub-standard building".
Zacarias told a press conference in the capital, Harare, on Wednesday that he was "somewhat puzzled" by the minister's response. He went on to describe the model as a joint effort by the Zimbabwean government and the UN, as "it was designed jointly by UN technicians, together with technicians appointed by the ministry of local government, and is the result of extended negotiations between the UN and the government of Zimbabwe".
The Zimbabwean government's controversial clean-up campaign, Operation Murambatsvina left more than 700,000 people homeless or without a livelihood when it started in mid-May.
The Herald added that Chombo, after viewing the model home on Tuesday, commented that the people who had designed the structure were guided by "a this-is-good-for-Africa attitude".
Zacarias underlined that the model "very closely" reflected the technical specifications contained in a letter from the Zimbabwean government over a month ago. "What is new is the request attributed to the government in yesterday's coverage [in the Herald] that the temporary housing should contain two rooms - something not contained in the aforementioned specifications provided to us".
The Zimbabwean government initially rejected the UN offer to build temporary shelters, saying there was "no humanitarian crisis", only to make an about-turn last month. In its acceptance letter the government insisted on drawing up the list of beneficiaries, and laid down specifications for the construction of permanent brick and concrete one-room shelters.
Reiterating that the UN had never committed itself to constructing permanent housing for those left homeless after the clean-up operation, Zacarias said the model had been built, notwithstanding various constraints, such as time, cost and the need to provide shelter to as many as possible before the onset of the rainy season.
The UN's spokesman in Harare, Hiro Ueki, told IRIN that the temporary shelter had been designed in such a way that people could remove some of the building material to construct permanent shelters.
He added that the UN hoped to provide shelter to 2,500 families within a period of three months during phase 1 of the shelter programme. Subject to funding, the UN intends building 20,000 units at a total cost of US $18 million.
On Monday the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland told the UN Security Council in New York that the global body and the humanitarian community should be more proactive in engaging the Zimbabwean government to address the "enormous humanitarian crisis" in that country.
Egeland met President Robert Mugabe in Harare earlier this month, where the Zimbabwean leader snubbed a UN offer of tents for those affected by the clean-up operation.
Zacarias pointed out on Wednesday that "tents are used throughout the world to provide temporary shelter to those in need".
He said the UN in Zimbabwe had "agreed
to move beyond the use of tents in order to construct what might technically
be called 'temporary or transitional homes', which beneficiaries might
subsequently use as a basic building block for their longer-term housing".
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