UN Resident Representative and Humanitarian Coordinator in Zimbabwe, Dr Agostinho Zacarias, on Wednesday clashed with Local Government minister, Ignatious Chombo, over claims that the UN wanted
to foist substandard houses on victims of Operation Murambatsvina.
Zacarias said the “model house” built at Hopley Farm outside Harare was not adopted by the UN alone, but jointly agreed with government.
“It was not a UN model house, for the obvious reason that it was designed jointly by both UN technicians together with technicians appointed by the Ministry of Local Government,” Zacarias told a media briefing on Wednesday.
“It should more correctly have been called a GOZ (government of Zimbabwe)/UN house,” he said.
African technicians from the Nairobi-based UN Habitat helped in designing the shelter programme for those affected by Operation Restore Order.
Chombo is reported to have said the model house built at Hopley Farm was “substandard and a mockery to Africans” when he visited the project on Tuesday.
Chombo described the model house of combined bricks and asbestos sheets as “below human dignity and built by people guided by a this-is-good-for-Africans attitude”.
The project is meant to house thousands of Zimbabweans made roofless by the slum clearance operation launched by the government in May.
“I would like to take this opportunity to categorically refute suggestions that the UN has applied double standards to Africans and more specifically to Zimbabweans,” said Zacarias.
He said the impression created over the house might lead to misunderstandings between the UN and the government, as well as amongst the general public.
He said the UN had never committed to help construct permanent houses for people displaced during the unplanned operation.
“Given the target group, those affected by Operation Restore Order who continue to find themselves without shelter, given the finite resources placed at the disposal of the UN by the international donor community, and given the onset of the rainy season which we always had to factor into our timelines,” he said, “the model was a fair compromise”.
After rendering an estimated 700 000 Zimbabweans homeless, government failed to meet its August deadline to construct 200 000 housing units. It moved the deadline to December 31 but that is likely to be missed as well.
There are also reports that Garikai houses in Chinhoyi have crumbled before occupation due to rains over the past few weeks.
Zacarias said the UN had adopted a position of great flexibility in its negotiations with the government, notwithstanding the constraints.
Zimbabwe turned down an offer of tents, accusing the UN of trying to create an impression to the world of desperation and government’s inability to meet national housing needs.
The UN agreed to move beyond the use of tents to construct what might technically be called “temporary or transitional homes”, which beneficiaries could subsequently use as a basic building block for their longer-term housing.
The model at Hopley Farm, according to the UN, serves as not only immediate shelter for those living out in the open or in plastic sheeting, but also as a basis on which future improvements could be made.