NEWS

ROBERT'S REPORT ON THE CRISIS2009-01-28

Crisis deep and wide

Zimbabwe's decade-long crisis continues to widen and deepen, despite the year opening with high hopes for a permanent political solution to stimulate economic and social recovery. It is disheartening to see the majority of people living in utter poverty in a country characterised by hyperinflation, spiralling prices of basic goods and services - most of them in short supply - an unemployment rate of over 80%, and the collapse of education and health sectors.

Inflation in quintillions

Just imagine, the last official inflation data released in July 2008 stood at 231 million % but just three months later Professor Steve Hanke (Cato Institute of Zimbabwe) put it at 516 quintillion %. Who's ever heard of a quintillion?

Trading in FOREX, even gold

I visited my rural village near Karoi during the Christmas holiday and what I saw is very appalling. Since the introduction of foreign-exchange-licensed warehouses and shops, almost all shops (including the unlicensed ones) are now demanding payment in foreign currency. Can someone please tell me how the ordinary person in rural areas going to get FOREX? Where can most Zimbabweans get FOREX when our commercial banks are not giving it out?

A bucket of maize meal is being exchanged for a gram of gold. People are crushing stones and are always seen in the river beds panning gold which is not only illegal, but also damaging the environment.

80% do nothing when family fall sick: what can they do?

People have suffered enough. The once vibrant growth point now looks like a deserted place. The clinic has neither staff nor medication. People have become hopeless as the economy continues to dwindle to unprecedented levels. The health delivery system has literally collapsed and innocent civilians are dying of treatable diseases. Conditions are ripe for the spread of diseases whilst council services are not available.

I asked some women what they do when a family members falls ill. About 80% of them said they just watch helplessly - what do you expect us to do? 10% said they would take the person to church for prayers, another 10% said they would try to use traditional herbs and services of witch doctors.

During the two weeks I was there, two deaths occurred that could have been avoided if clinics were operating normally: victims of a humanitarian crisis. One was the breadwinner of an extended family. She was HIV positive and constantly had problems in accessing a regular supply of ARVs. The other died of cholera, which is treatable under normal circumstances.

Health services inadequate; people turn to traditional remedies

Considering the fact that the majority of the council clinics are either closed or functioning with a skeletal stuff and no longer have medicines or equipment, it can be clearly seen how vulnerable the population is. For example, Budiriro clinic in Harare is the only clinic still open in the area, and therefore has to serve seven large suburbs, each of which previously had its own catchment area.

My young brother missed death by a whisker recently after he was bitten by a puff adder while tilling the land. He was rushed to the hospital but there was no one to attend to him. It was my father's expertise in using the traditional herbs that saved my brother's life. This was a clear testimony to the value of traditional remedies, not only to me, but to others who look down upon them. They are becoming revived, and we are encouraging them to be passed down to younger generations before the wisdom is lost.

Cholera

The government of Zimbabwe has declared a health emergency, but that is not enough! The outbreak of Cholera in epidemic proportions has brought Zimbabwe back to the attention of the region and the world. Zimbabwe's complex emergency is now causing so much suffering, taking lives and breaking the society apart. A key factor in creating a perfect environment for the breeding and spread of the cholera bacterium, has been the neglect of essential services and resulting decline of basic standards of living for many years.

Cholera thrives where there is inadequate sanitation and clean water supplies. The germs breed in human faeces and are spread through ingestion, when contaminated water or foods are used. Thus, it spreads easily where a sewage system is not functioning, or people are forced to defecate on the ground when toilets are blocked. Many people in towns no longer remember when water last came from the taps. Heavy rains began in November, taking the human waste both over and under the ground and down to the water table.

Botswana government officials gave me quite a handful of water cleaning tablets for free when I went there in early December. I managed to distribute these with the community and that was greatly appreciated.

We are happy to report that the gardeners with whom we work are not very much affected since most of these guys stay in the low density area of Greendale and ask for water from neighbours with boreholes. One thing I feel is lacking to these gardeners is the education part. They need to be educated about how they can protect themselves and their families from this deadly epidemic. In any case most of these guys do not own a radio, television and neither do they have access to the media where most of the education and advertisements are placed. We are working on improving this.

We will focus stronger efforts in high density Harare suburbs like Mabvuku, Budiriro, Chitungwiza, Kuwadzana, which have burst sewage pipes and have reported many deaths since the onset of the epidemic last year August. We are joining with other NGOs to distribute water purification tablets, provide health education, and work towards longer-term sources of clean water.

Access to food

In all areas of the country food, if available, is now sold in foreign currency. The most affected group of people are found in rural areas. Those without mainly rely on barter trade or starve. Despite the starvation, known opposition members of the community cannot access food aid being distributed by humanitarian organisations because the civil servants have monopoly on the distribution points. Aid organisations have reduced the quantities of food they give to families and are only giving aid to the worst affected. My parents are among those who did not receive any food aid. They rely mainly on wild mushrooms, pumpkin leaves, tree leaves and wild fruits. Not only is this insufficient in terms of quantity and nutrition, it can be dangerous. I ate mushrooms cooked in the wrong way and got poisoning. Many people look younger than their actual age and are now skinny due to lack of a decent diet.

In the farms there is very little activity. Rains have been consistent since November but most crops were planted without fertilisers and if they do not get top dressing fertilisers now, the crop will be a total failure. Fertilisers cannot be found in the shops as all the local fertiliser companies have closed down, citing viability problems. Farmers have urged the government to make fertilisers available in the shops, otherwise the country faces another year characterised by serious food shortages. Farmers had planted a good hectarage this season in response to the government's call to combat food shortages but unfortunately the crops are turning yellow, which is a sign of nitrogen deficiency. South Africa, WFP and the World Bank have assisted the government to acquire inputs for the 2008/2009 farming season but farmers are disappointed because some of the inputs distributed did not reach them.

Education set to be only for the affluent

All schools in rural areas have been deserted by teachers. The whole of 2008 children didn't attend school lessons and there is doom and gloom as 2009 starts. There is little hope for the Zimbabwean child this year, and those in urban areas have not been spared either. The school fees proposed by some private schools in towns shocked us. The fees are not only astronomical; they are so outrageous that they are bound to make education the preserve of the affluent members of the society. And term started almost a month late, with a teachers' strike continuing as both private and public schools are pressing for massive hard currency school fees hikes to enable them to sustain operations. Doors are now open but no teaching is occurring.

A moral crisis

This is how bad the Zimbabwean situation has become: Soldiers go on the rampage against civilians, nurses steal medicines to sell to patients, teachers abandon their schools, the government spends money to buy judges plasma screen televisions, whilst the nation starves and dies of cholera and AIDS. Civil servants obtain their 'salary' by charging for 'services' provided, police arrest suspects only to get the bribe required before releasing them. Groups of unidentified men, kidnap and abduct people from their homes and offices. And party politicians - rejected by the electorate - masquerade as 'ministers' issuing threats, denials and insults even as the waves of disaster lap around their feet.

Surely this is a moral crisis above all else, a crisis of leadership, a crisis of citizenship, a failure of human beings to demonstrate the human spirit in any form. Zimbabwe has joined the league of societies whose collapse demonstrates how a venal, self-interested leadership can destroy an entire nation; political structures, economic structures, families and many individuals all crooked, twisted, incapacitated and dying as expressions of any positive human endeavour meet obstacle after obstacle.

And yet we believe there is hope. Glimpses of God can be seen as the people still manage to smile and laugh. There is still a sense of community, with small acts of kindness making all the difference. There is still singing and dancing. Children still manage to invent games out of nothing. For many, just knowing that there are people out there who care for them, are praying for them, is an encouragement. We are able to make a difference to some, enabling them to access food, health, water, support, education, advice, employment. We continue to pray for transformation.

SEED Projects Manager, Robert Kazunga

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