United Nations humanitarian aid coordinator Jan Egeland ended a four-day mission to Zimbabwe on Wednesday having visited communities devastated by the government’s slum clearance campaign, consulted with civil society leaders and met with President Robert Mugabe in a partially successful bid to expand U.N. relief efforts.
A U.N. source told VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that Mr. Egeland would brief the U.N. Security Council on December 19 on the crisis and make recommendations, which might include imposing international sanctions on the Harare government for its seeming obstruction of efforts to deliver humanitarian aid to the population.
Mr. Egeland expressed some frustration in a meeting with reporters in Johannesburg, South Africa, his first stop after leaving Harare. Mr. Mugabe endorsed his proposal for increased food aid, but rejected Mr. Egeland’s of a large number of tents to shelter hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans left homeless by the slum "cleanup."
The U.N. has estimated that 2.4 million people have been affected one way or another by Harare's blitz on shantytowns and informal marketplaces, and food security experts estimate that something approaching 4 million people are facing malnutrition.
"Millions of people are struggling with their back against the wall to fend off hunger, to fend off AIDS and a lot of other things,” Reuters quoted Egeland as saying.
The Norwegian envoy said he was mystified by the government's rejection of the offer of tents. "If they are good enough for people in Europe and the United States who have lost their houses, why are they not good enough for Zimbabwe?” he said.
Zimbabwe's human rights community reacted with cautious optimism to Mr. Egeland's visit, hoping it would boost pressure on Harare to accept expanded international aid for the estimated 700,000 people people left homeless or destitute or both by the campaign called Operation Murambatsvina, Shona for “Drive Out Rubbish”.
Executive Director Arnold Tsunga of imbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights told reporter Chinedu Offor of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that Harare would keep ignoring calls for more aid to those displaced and impoverished by its policies unless it is threatened with sanctions for “acts bordering on crimes against humanity,” as he put it.
Although Mr. Egeland's visit raised hope in some quarters, civil society organizations said he failed to resolve questions about aid delivery and the role of local NGOs.
Spokesman Fambai Ngirande of the National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations told reporter Patience Rusere of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe why his group felt somewhat let down by Mr. Egeland's fact-finding mission.