Impact of demolitions greater than government's new plan

Although Zimbabweans are yet to tally the cost of the government's controversial cleanup campaign, there are already expectations that the financial losses will be significant.

A two-month demolition campaign targeting "illegal structures" - mostly informal homes and markets in urban areas - has left around 700,000 people without shelter, while the UN estimates that the forced evictions have affected up to 2.4 million people to varying degrees.

A joint report released on Friday by the Combined Harare Residents Association (CHRA) and Action Aid, an international development NGO, said although it was difficult to quantify the damage caused by the operation in monetary terms, a recent survey indicated major losses across a broad front, ranging from shelter to schooling.

Interviews were conducted among 81,955 residents over two days in 26 high-density suburbs of the capital, Harare, that were affected by the operation.

The report noted that 76 percent of respondents cited the loss of shelter and income as a direct consequence of the government's eviction campaign, while disruption in schooling had caused attendance to drop by 22 percent among children whose parents were affected.

Families hosting orphans expressed very little hope of their charges continuing their education in the near future, due to lack of income. Nearly 60 percent of 14,137 households sampled had become food insecure, further exacerbating the plight of the most vulnerable.

The report argued that greater detail on the impact of the operation was needed for relief assistance to be effective.

"Lack of information is affecting response programme planning, implementation and inability to ascertain the effectiveness of relief efforts," the report observed. There was concern that current assistance was biased towards those with access to relief assistance in holding camps or sheltering in churches, leaving the most vulnerable members of the affected population to fend for themselves.

"The bulk of those affected by this operation are invisible and have had to resort to various coping mechanisms. Those without shelter have had to find support from relatives who are already living in congested accommodation. Many of those who lost their livelihoods depend on well-wishers for cash or other entitlements, since most don't have any money at all to buy food," David Mwaniki, humanitarian programme manager for Action Aid in Zimbabwe, told IRIN.

A number of families linked deterioration of their health to the forced evictions, but "in-depth surveillance" was necessary to determine the impact of the upheavals on HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment efforts.

"The preventative process has been disrupted, especially since informal traders were a primary source for condoms and other important anti-AIDs awareness messages. The consequences of this action, including the disruption of the ART [antiretroviral therapy] programme are likely to be felt in the future," Mwaniki noted.

He stressed that although the joint survey had produced an overview of the current challenges, sector-specific research was necessary if the humanitarian community was to provide tangible assistance to those needing it. He also called for further interrogation of a government plan to accommodate people affected by the cleanup.

At the end of June the government announced the end of Operation Murambatsvina ('Drive Out Filth') and the launch of the Zim $3 trillion (US $300 million) Operation Garikai/Hlalani Kuhle ('Stay well').

Mwaniki commented: "It is important that humanitarian actors ask some hard questions about whether the proposed plan will actually be adequate to address all the needs of those affected."