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Zimbabwe’s humanitarian situation is worsening

UN emergency coordinator says Zimbabwe’s humanitarian situation is worsening

United Nations Emergency Coordinator Jan Egeland, just back from a four-day mission to Zimbabwe on behalf of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, said today that the humanitarian situation in the southern Africa is “extremely serious and it is worsening as we speak.”

Speaking to journalists at UN headquarters in New York, Under-Secretary-General Egeland said he met a range of officials and representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and had two meetings with President Robert Mugabe on the UN’s work in the country.

He voiced hope that the UN and donor countries could contribute to breaking the vicious circle which had locked the Zimbabwean people into declining standards of living. The country that had enjoyed a life expectancy of more than 60 years about 16 years ago now has seen that cut to only 32 years today, he said.

Mr. Egeland said it was “heartbreaking” to meet with AIDS orphans, who number about a million in Zimbabwe.

“It’s heartbreaking to meet with people who are fearing the future because of food insecurity, which is affecting the majority of the people. Prices are spiralling as food is becoming increasingly scarce. It was heartbreaking to meet victims of the eviction campaign last summer, who now are back in the same place, only in much worse shelter than the house that was bulldozed.”

The UN wants to do more to help, he said, noting that it launched an appeal last week for $276 million for food aid, medical assistance, safe water and sanitation, as well as general assistance for Zimbabwe’s people.

In that regard, he made progress in talks with the Government in some crucial areas. Officials agreed to cut some of the red tape, which was an obstacle to the UN’s work in a crisis situation, Mr. Egeland said.

He said he wanted a “one-stop shop” on the Government’s side, with the UN on the humanitarian side working with NGOs which have been facing many obstacles.

He agreed to establish a task force on food insecurity, where such UN agencies as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Food Programme (WFP) could work with the Government to transform the country from one where food production is in decline into one that could feed itself. They were feeding 2 million people and that number could jump to 4 million before the April harvest was brought in, he said.

Asked about the Government removing tents put up as temporary shelters in October, he said officials, especially Mr. Mugabe, believed the tents gave the impression that there was a shelter crisis.

Mr. Egeland said he explained that, with permanent housing taking a long time to build, the procedure was to put up tents, then move people from tents into prefabricated shelters and then into permanent housing.

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