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UNICEF to Aid Children Made Homeless by Zimbabwe Shanty Demolitions

Catherine Harande carries pieces of wood she recoverd from the families destroyed home in Mabvuku, Zimbabwe
The United Nations Children's Fund says it is stepping up efforts to reach tens of thousands of women and children affected by Operation Restore Order in Zimbabwe, a government campaign to demolish illegal structures. UNICEF says at least 100,000 children have been rendered homeless by forced evictions.

UNICEF says most of those affected by Zimbabwe’s Operation Restore Order are women and children. It says tens of thousands of settlements, homes and market stalls have been destroyed, since the five-week-old government campaign to clean up shantytowns in the capital, Harare, and other cities began.

UNICEF Spokesman, Damien Personnaz, says within two days, some 200,000 people who were forcibly evicted from their houses were made homeless.

"It means that these children have no access to their schools anymore," he noted. "They do not have shelter. They do not have water. They do not have sanitation. They do not have access to any basic social services. And, that is why UNICEF has been asked to step in."

Mr. Personnaz says the government of Zimbabwe has moved most of these displaced people into temporary sites. He says they will stay there until the government sends them back to their villages and rural communities.

He says UNICEF now has access to most sites across the country. But, some areas and children remain out of reach. He says UNICEF, in coordination with various Ministries and a range of private groups and churches, is distributing aid, including water and sanitation equipment, health supplies, blankets and plastic sheeting.

"Our main concern is that this is winter now in Zimbabwe,” he added. “It is cold. Harare is [at a] very high altitude, so at night it is extremely cold. So, children are starting to be fragile and we are very much concerned about their future. Besides, they do not go to school and that is a violation of the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child, article 28, by the Zimbabwean government."

Mr. Personnaz says UNICEF is planning to set up some mobile educational activities for the children. It also plans to organize mobile medical clinics.

For now, he says, the health of the children is not bad. But, as winter goes on he says he fears they will not be able to cope very well. He says these children, who used to have a roof over their heads, already are suffering from exposure to the cold weather.

He says he does not expect many children to die, but believes many will become ill. He says respiratory infections and diarrheal diseases are a real threat.

President Robert Mugabe has defended Operation Restore Order, saying Zimbabwe's shantytowns have been hubs of illegal activity.