Zimbabwe: UNICEF calls for donor support to assist thousands displaced by forced evictions

By James Elder

HARARE, Zimbabwe, 1 July 2005 - Three-year-old Taniya stands still and sobs as thick clouds of dust churn through the air. Three weeks ago her parents' home was demolished as part of a controversial government effort to 'clean up' cities and fight the black market across Zimbabwe.

Tens of thousands of settlements and business activities - namely homes and market stalls - have been destroyed. The operation has hit particularly hard at those already living on the margins. Current estimates are that 250,000 people have been made homeless.

Taniya's family was never wealthy; their home was a two-room shack that her father had built with his own hands. He says it took him eight months to save the money for the materials, and three weeks to build. It took a bulldozer 15 seconds to bring it to the ground.

Since then Taniya has been at a 'transit camp' on the other side of Harare. When she arrived she was one of around 400 people. That number has since risen vastly. Some families, such as Taniya's, arrived with little more than what they could carry. Others used the last of their money to rent a truck and are now in the bush camp with vanity mirrors, double beds and stoves. Rows and rows of torn plastic sheeting offer scant privacy or protection from near-freezing nightly winds.

Aid agencies are scrambling to meet the overwhelming demand to supply water, sanitation, blankets, plastic sheeting, food and medical support to the newly displaced populations. And according to the United Nations, the demolition operations are only furthering the isolation of Zimbabwe in the international community. The situation is making life even more difficult for the children of this country.

"Donors are right to be concerned about governance and human rights in Zimbabwe, as they would be anywhere else," says Dr. Festo Kavishe, UNICEF's Representative in Zimbabwe, which is leading the humanitarian response. "But by withholding desperately needed support for basic health care and education, those who are concerned are also missing an opportunity to engage at grass roots level.

"We know Zimbabwe is not the most favoured nation for donor assistance, though it is hard to explain to these gentle, educated and resolute people why they are paying the price for their country's politics."

All this comes when a series of complex, interrelated factors is already putting enormous and increasing stress on the average Zimbabwean. The HIV/AIDS pandemic, declining economic performance, and drought have led to the world's fastest rise in child mortality and an HIV rate of almost 25 per cent.

While the numbers grow more gruesome, and the politicking is played out, Taniya clutches onto what she has left, a plastic baby doll. Sheltering it from the dust, she offers it the very protection her parents are at this moment unable to offer her.