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Millions in Zimbabwe Face Humanitarian Crisis, Says UN Relief Official

A senior U.N. official has condemned Zimbabwe's so-called urban clean-up campaign, which has left tens of thousands of people homeless, and accused the government of Robert Mugabe of hurting the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

Jan Egeland
United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland says Zimbabwe is likely to become a major crisis that the world will soon have to deal with. He says 70 percent of working people are without jobs, millions are suffering from food shortages and many of them will have to be fed on a daily basis by aid agencies.

He says one-quarter of Zimbabwe's adult population is HIV positive, and one million of the country's 1.3 million orphans have lost one or both parents to AIDS.

Mr. Egeland says the government has driven hundreds of thousands of poor people out of their slum dwellings as part of its so-called urban clean-up campaign. He says tens of thousands of homeless people are sleeping on the streets in freezing temperatures.

"We did not need another few hundred-thousand people to care for as humanitarians, but it has been produced, and it was manmade by the government," he said. "Our appeal is stop it immediately, and help us help you and your population in Zimbabwe."

A new United Nations report says as many as two million people have been affected by this slum clearance campaign. It calls the government's policy disastrous and inhumane. When President Robert Mugabe initiated the campaign in May, he said the government was doing it to rid urban areas of criminal elements.

Mr. Egeland says U.N. and private aid agencies have been feeding between one million and two million people in Zimbabwe this year, but that figure, he says, is likely to increase.

He says that, earlier this year, the United Nations appealed for $90 million in aid for Zimbabwe, but, so far, the United Nations has received only 11 percent of the money it asked for.

Mr. Egeland attributes much of this poor response to donors' unwillingness to contribute to a government whose practices they find distasteful.

He says African countries should put more pressure on the Zimbabwean government. "I think African countries could be much more outspoken on their brothers next door. I think so," he said. "It does not need to be rocket science to see that the policies are wrong, and that they are hurting the people of this country and other countries, and it is hurting the sub-region."

But Mr. Egeland said, whatever the government's policies, the international community should remember that withholding money will not punish President Mugabe, but the people will suffer.

More stories from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe