OXFORD, UK — International aid agency Oxfam has cautiously welcomed steps in Zimbabwe to form a government of national unity, ending months of political deadlock. Oxfam calls on the new government to urgently address the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation inside the country, which is gripped by cholera and where more than half the population is in need of food aid.
"We hope the government of national unity can prioritize the humanitarian crisis and mobilize all the resources it can to make swift recovery possible while working to bring broader stability to the country," said Oxfam's country director in Zimbabwe, Peter Mutoredzanwa.
Oxfam also urges the new government to create the space for the active engagement of civil society in partnership to rebuild Zimbabwe. Civil society has a critical role to play in the current humanitarian crisis and the longer-term development of the country. Oxfam also asks the new government to ensure that beyond access to basic needs, people's rights to freedom of expression, movement and security are respected and protected.
"We're calling on the new government to remove all constraints and enable our staff and staff of other civil society organizations to be able to carry out their work on the ground freely and effectively" Mutoredzanwa said.
As a direct result of the deteriorating socio-economic conditions in the country, Zimbabwe is currently struggling to control the worst- ever outbreak of cholera in its history, fuelled by the collapse of the country's public health and water systems. The cholera epidemic has claimed more than 3,000 lives, and infected more than 69,000 people. In addition, nearly seven million people, more than half the population, are relying on food hand-outs because of serious food shortages. Seriously weakened, they are more vulnerable and therefore unable to fight cholera.
Hyperinflation and the dollarization of the economy has meant millions have been unable to access basic food staples, increasing the number of people needing food aid in both urban and rural areas.
This year's harvest is predicted to be even worse than last year's and food shortages could continue into 2010. As well as dealing with immediate needs, Oxfam believes the new unity government and donors must examine ways of providing longer-term help, including inputs for farmers to prevent future food emergencies and food insecurity; and ensuring communities have access to clean water.
Oxfam calls for specific attention to be paid to the impact of this tragedy on women and girls—who bear the brunt of the HIV epidemic—are most affected by the deterioration of basic services and the lack of farm inputs.
While several governments have said they will only restore substantial aid to Zimbabwe when there is concrete evidence of political and economic reform, Oxfam urges donors to explore innovative ways to channel emergency resources to people who urgently need help and for existing pledges of aid to be translated into funds on the ground.
Oxfam supports calls for the creation of transparent mechanisms with clear benchmarks, supported by regional bodies like the African Union (AU) and Southern African Development Community (SADC), to monitor the implementation of the power-sharing agreement and policies of the new government. One key benchmark will be an open environment where civil society organizations can freely engage in a wider dialogue with the government as part of longer-term efforts to seek a resolution of Zimbabwe's problems.