Govt rejects tents, settles for plastics


Augustine Mukaro/ Bridget Sibanda



IN a move that exposes shortcomings in Operation Garikai, government has accepted a United Nations offer to provide temporary plastic she

lter and aid to over 300 000 people displaced under the controversial Operation Murambatsvina.


Last year government turned down a US$30 million UN appeal to provide temporary shelter to victims worst affected by the slum clearance blitz. The UN was forced to shelve the programme after government raised objections that it “would not accept its people living in tents”.


Government also rejected the appeal on the basis that the number of people affected by its controversial demolition campaign had been inflated while the reconstruction phase under Operation Garikai had been downplayed.


A year down the line, with Operation Garikai failing to make an impact on the accommodation of Murambatsvina victims, government has been forced to swallow its pride and accept temporary shelter.


A tour of the holding camps at Hopley and Hatcliffe in the past week revealed that temporary shelters had mushroomed where permanent government structures should have been.


These consist of a 12 square-metre room of tarpaulin plastic at the sides and metal sheeting at the top anchored on treated gumpoles, 1,5 metres high. The material is tear-resistant, non-flammable and sky-blue in colour. Unicef is providing septic tanks as toilets to the residents.


Justin MacDermott, a senior programme officer with the UN’s International Organisation for Migration, said humanitarian organisations started building temporary shelters at Hopley Farm and Hatcliffe in March. The projects would cost close to US$40 million, he said.


“As a humanitarian organisation we source funds to assist wherever people have suffered pain, poverty, degradation or lost hope by providing assistance, guidance, comfort and moral support,” MacDermott told the Zimbabwe Independent in an interview on Tuesday.


“We do not have to ask for permission from government to assist its people who are living in shacks after being affected by Operation Murambatsvina because Zimbabwe is a UN member state.”


An impasse developed between government and the UN, with Harare insisting that the number of people affected by Operation Murambatsvina had been inflated to discredit government.


“We did not sign an agreement with government for us to build these temporary shelters because we are providing assistance to those who are in need. Besides it’s only a temporary measure to help people who are suffering,” MacDermott said.


“About 1 300 families have already benefited at Hopley and Hatcliffe camps.”


MacDermott said his organisation expected more funding from donors to cover about 500 units since many families were still living in shacks and the rainy season was fast approaching.


“This is a beneficiary-driven project under which we provide the material, while the beneficiaries build their shelters with the assistance of our builders,” he said.


In the flash appeal, the UN had estimated that about 700 000 people, roughly 18% of the country’s population, was affected by the evictions and the crackdown on informal businesses in May last year.


Government claimed that only around 200 000 people were affected. Action Aid, one of the non-governmental organisations working in the country, estimated the displaced people to be not less than 1,5 million.


Humanitarian organisations assisting the victims said although it was difficult to quantify the damage in monetary terms, major losses were incurred across virtually all sectors of the economy.