UN inter-agency mission pledges to contain Zimbabwe humanitarian crisis

Friday, February 27, 2009

Johannesburg - A United Nations inter-agency humanitarian mission to Zimbabwe has pledged to ensure that the country's humanitarian crisis is contained.

Addressing reporters in Johannesburg on Thursday, UN Assistant Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Catherine Bragg said the country's humanitarian crisis remained grave.

"The situation in Zimbabwe is undesirable but we'll work according to our capacity, with the support of international community, to ensure that the current humanitarian crisis is contained."

She also called on the Zimbabwean Government and international community to support the humanitarian community to strengthen its work in the country.

Some of the most acute manifestations of Zimbabwe's complex humanitarian crisis include one of the world's worst outbreaks of cholera as well as the need of food aid to more than seven million people.

"Despite tremendous efforts by both the government and the humanitarian community in Zimbabwe to contain the cholera epidemic, major challenges remain," Ms Bragg explained.

She emphasised the need for contained food assistance and resources to help Zimbabwe improve food security. "We have to ensure that farmers have all the agriculture inputs they need for the next planning season, which begins in September.

"If we do not act now, we could end up next year with a situation similar to what we have today," said Ms Bragg.

According to the Deputy Regional Representative from the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), Timo Pakkala, the programme has spent more than $240 million to support at least seven million vulnerable people as well as curtail food shortage.

Neighbouring Botswana has donated $150 000 to the programme.

According to World Health Organisation (WHO) a report, the outbreak has infected 83 000 people and killed about 3 000 people.

Dr Denial Lopez of the WHO, speaking at the event, said the humanitarian mission wanted to provide life saving systems and assist the lives of the vulnerable.

He said the Zimbabwe UNICEF - cholera strategy, which started in urban areas last year, has been moved to remote areas where it will try by all means to prevent further transmission.

The mission also stressed the need to start planning for early recovery, noting that reconstruction of the basic infrastructure was required.

"To effectively contain cholera, water and sewage systems need to be urgently repaired coupled with public health outreach programme that goes down to the districts and ward level," it said.

The mission also met with President Robert Mugabe earlier this week who expressed his appreciation of the support Zimbabwe has been receiving from the humanitarian community.

Their discussions with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and a number of cabinet ministers were also positive and the mission was given assurances of full cooperation from the United Nations and its partners.

The mission said the welfare of the people was largely the responsibility of the Zimbabwean government.

"We trust that the all-inclusive government will quickly take the necessary steps to address the fundamentals of governance that would allow stability and economic recovery," the mission said.

Zimbabwe has requested financial assistance from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to jump-start recovery of its battered economy. SADC finance ministers are currently meeting in Cape Town to discuss the country's financial situation.