Human Rights Watch says the Zimbabwean government is creating a humanitarian crisis by denying displaced people access to food aid and shelter. The rights organization also criticized the United Nations for failing to devise an appropriate strategy to provide aid for these people.

Human Rights Watch says that six months after the Zimbabwe government's crackdown on informal traders and settlements, most of the people evicted are still without adequate food, water or shelter. The rights organization says hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans continue to suffer from exposure and malnutrition.

The crackdown that began in May was described by the government as a clean-up campaign. In August, U.N. envoy Anna Tibaijuka said 700,000 people had lost their homes or livelihoods and that a further 2.4 million people had been affected in varying degrees by the crackdown.

In its report, released in Johannesburg, Human Rights Watch says that most of those evicted in the crackdown are living in shelters made of debris from their old houses or whatever else they can find. The rights group says these people are receiving virtually no aid or medical attention and the effects are starting to show.

Human Rights Watch researcher Tiseke Kasambala says the most vulnerable people, children and those living with HIV are the worst affected.

"We have found that children have now developed malnutrition as a result of a lack of food and we visited a number of children in hospitals in the Harare city hospital suffering from pneumonia from sleeping out in the open, in the cold, for months on end," she said.

Ms. Kasambala says the Zimbabwean government is preventing international organizations from providing aid and the displaced are regularly harassed by police.

"It has prevented them from delivering food to those out in the open, it has prevented the erection of tents or shelter for the displaced. There was another instance in Mutare where police came and burnt plastic sheeting which the displaced had been using to cover their furniture and protect themselves from the rain," she added.

The report is also highly critical of the United Nations, which it says does not have an adequate strategy to help the displaced people.

Researcher Kasambala says the United Nations has failed to tackle the Zimbabwean government over the human rights abuses and will need to if it is to provide any assistance.

"The United Nations has used quiet representation with the government as a strategy for gaining further access to the displaced and out of fear that if it does otherwise it will be expelled from the country," she said. "Our findings indicate that this strategy has yielded few tangible results. Evictions and further displacements continue to take place and the government has prevented the United Nations from adequately assisting the majority of the displaced."

The report calls for the Zimbabwe to allow international humanitarian organizations full access to all displaced people. Human Rights Watch says it will lobby African Union members and the United Nations to increase the pressure on the Zimbabwean government.