Economic crisis poses challenge for Zim rescue plan

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Cape Town - The global economic crisis poses a challenge with regard to the South African Development Community's (SADC) rescue plan for Zimbabwe.

"The region will support Zimbabwe, however we need to take into consideration what is going on (globally) ... so for sure it is a challenge," said SADC Executive Secretary Tomaz Salomao.

He was speaking on Wednesday on the sidelines of the regional Finance Ministers meeting in Cape Town.

Finance ministers from the 15-nation organ are meeting to discuss an aid package for Zimbabwe, where the new unity government faces a severe humanitarian and economic crisis.

The Finance Ministers will also look at measures to soften the impact of the world economic crisis on the region.

Once outlined, the measures will be submitted to the organisation's Cabinet Council that will meet Thursday and Friday in Cape Town, said Mr Salomao.

The Finance Ministers meeting came ahead of the SADC Council of Ministers Conference - to be held in Cape Town on Thursday.

"Where money will be coming from, we have a range of options, (such as it) coming from those member states who have reserves ... I think that we can also assist Zimbabwe in knocking on the doors of friendly countries who can also assist Zimbabwe," he said, highlighting that the request must be regional.

Western countries and donors have said that they would wait to see if the new government was serious about tackling the country's economic malaise before providing aid. Some are sceptical the arrangement can work while President Robert Mugabe remains at the helm.

Last week, the Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai said the country needed at least $5billion to ensure recovery. Economic experts, however, suggest $10 billion is needed for reconstruction.

Zimbabwe's economy collapsed under President Mugabe's leadership, and policy failures have reduced the country to a failed state.

The economy, its agricultural base destroyed by violent land seizures, has experienced 10 years of negative growth.

Its inflation rate is the world's highest, challenging efforts to rebuild the country, its infrastructure - roads, airports, railway networks, schools, hospitals and clinics, waterworks, power stations and bridges - which are collapsing.

Meanwhile, the United Nations on Monday pledged to help Zimbabwe tackle its humanitarian crisis. The country faces chronic food shortages and a cholera epidemic.

The World Health Organisation last week said that 3 759 people who had contracted the disease had died. A total of 80 250 cases had so far been reported.

A visiting UN team promised to deal with the humanitarian situation gripping the country after a meeting with President Mugabe on Monday.

UN Assistant Secretary-General for humanitarian affairs and deputy emergency relief co-ordinator Catherine Bragg said the world body would step up efforts to help Zimbabwe.

"We are focusing on cholera and any form of humanitarian assistance the UN can offer," she said.

Ms Bragg visited cholera treatment facilities to assess the situation.

She also met the ministers of labour, education, health, agriculture and foreign affairs.