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UN Calls for More Assistance for Zimbabwe Eviction Victims


U.N. aid coordinator Jan Egeland is in Zimbabwe, where he heard stories of how people have survived since their homes were knocked down by government order earlier this year. Mr. Egeland visited Zimbabwe on behalf of Secretary-General Kofi Annan and is due to meet President Robert Mugabe before he leaves.

Jan Egeland was visiting the highly populated areas around Harare to see the effects of a campaign of housing demolitions the government launched in May, a campaign called "Clean Out the Filth."

The U.N. official also saw efforts by churches and non-governmental organizations to provide temporary shelter to those the government made homeless. He also saw new government-sponsored housing being built in areas where the old homes had stood.

Construction of these new homes started after the United Nations issued a report condemning the demolitions, which made more than 700,000 people homeless as Zimbabwe's winter was approaching.

The government also confiscated the goods of thousands of informal business owners in the overwhelmingly poor areas and ordered them to stop trading.

The U.N. report said more than two million people had been affected by the Clean out the Filth campaigns. The Zimbabwe government said the U.N. report was an exaggeration.

The principal director in the local government ministry, Joseph Mhakayakora, was on hand to show Mr. Egeland the government's new housing developments. The houses are built of brick and and some have running water.

During a stop at Hatcliffe Extention, about 25 kilometers north of Harare, Mr. Mhakayakora defended the demolitions.

"Why did we knock them down first? Because they were so disorganized they were just putting up any tent, anything," he said. "This is a place where we have serviced. We have water, sewage system. At least people should be organized when they move in."

After it bulldozed the houses, the government would not allow U.N. tents to be erected as temporary shelter for the homeless.

The Zimbabwe government wants the United Nations to erect permanent structures, but Western donors have rejected these appeals. They say the the problem was created by the government and it should provide permanent replacement housing.

Mr. Egeland praised the effort of various groups to provide shelter, but stressed that much more needs to be done to help those left homeless.

"We have now seen a number of good projects, that both the United Nations is doing, and the non-governmental organizations, and the government," he said. "The problem is it is totally insufficient to meet the great shelter needs that are in the country, and what has been produced by the eviction campaign, and now we have to work together much harder with all of the partners to give the shelter needed for those who are in totally sub-standard shelter conditions in so many places in Zimbabwe."

Zimbabwe recently signed an agreement for the U.N. World Food Program to provide food for at least three million Zimbabweans in the next six months.

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