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UN Emergency Relief Coordinator to Visit Zimbabwe

The United Nations' emergency relief coordinator, Jan Egeland, arrives in Zimbabwe Saturday to assess the country's humanitarian needs. A report issued this week by the group, Human Rights Watch, says the Zimbabwean government has created a humanitarian crisis with its campaign of forced evictions that has left hundreds of thousands of people without food and shelter.

Mr. Egeland will meet with government and civil society leaders to discuss how to address Zimbabwe's unprecedented humanitarian crisis. Years of economic decline and successive droughts have resulted in millions of people requiring food aid.

The country's controversial land reform program, which saw white commercial farmers losing their land for the resettlement of landless blacks, is also blamed for the food shortages. Because of a lack of investment and capital, the new farmers have been unable to maintain production on the farms.

The situation was worsened by the demolition of unapproved residential structures and disruption of informal business activities earlier this year as part of a government campaign, called Murambatsvina, or "Drive out the filth."

U.N. special envoy Anna Tibaijuka, who was tasked with assessing the effects of the operation, reported that some 700,000 Zimbabweans were directly affected by the exercise. The government says it launched the blitz to rid urban areas of people involved in criminal activities, black marketing of scarce basic commodities and illegal dealing in foreign currency.

Five months after the demolitions, and with the Zimbabwean rainy season under way, some of the displaced still have no shelter. The United Nations offered tents for the homeless, but the government of Zimbabwe spurned the offer, saying it preferred permanent structures.

Government officials recently have been quoted in the state media as saying they have reached an agreement with the United Nations to provide "acceptable" structures. Contacted for comment, the U.N. office in Harare would not confirm such a deal has been reached.

The Human Rights Watch report, while blaming the Zimbabwe government for the humanitarian crisis resulting from the demolition campaign, also criticized the United Nations for failing to confront the Zimbabwean government over the human rights abuses and to "devise a realistic response strategy."

A U.N. spokesman said Thursday the United Nations has been working hard to respond to the situation in Zimbabwe. On Thursday, the U.N. World Food Program signed an agreement with the Zimbabwe government for an emergency program to feed up to four million people.

Mr. Egelund will meet with President Robert Mugabe as well as U.N. and other relief organization representatives during his five-day visit. The United Nations says he also plans to meet with civil society representatives.

He will present the findings of his visit to the U.N. Secretary-General.