Photo: A market place and a bus terminus in Masvingo, Zimbabwe | Wikipedia Commons
By Babukar Kashka
NAIROBI (IDN) – For those who are fond of statistics, please take note that today, tomorrow, the day after and so on, around 100 children under the age of five, will die in Zimbabwe. Please also take note that these deaths are mostly due to preventable diseases.
So dire is the situation in this former British Crown colony, which was named Rhodesia and got its independence finally recognised only 30 years ago.
On paper, Zimbabwe is not a poor country. But like the other former European colonies, especially in Africa, it has been extremely impoverished. In fact, Zimbabwe hosts some of the world's largest platinum reserves being mined by Anglo-American and Impala Platinum, as well as gold and other precious metals.
The mining sector is very lucrative and comes on top of its exports together with agriculture products such as cotton and tobacco.
Nevertheless, 6 million people, that is nearly half of the country's 12.5 million inhabitants, do not have access to safe water and sanitation due to the erosion of basic services, according to data gathered by the United Nations. Livelihoods are also threatened by the prolonged economic downturn.
Moreover, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has reported that the dry spell in parts of this Southern African nation from mid-December 2009 to February 2010 has raised concerns for food security.
Meanwhile, over 70 cases of cholera, including one death, have been reported in a new outbreak that began in early February.
In addition, the number of deaths related to a measles outbreak more than doubled in one month, rising to 110 by the end of February 2010, compared to 50 at the end of January.
Life expectancy is 43 years for men and 44 years for women, and the gross national income per capita is around 240 dollars a year.
Such is the panorama of the former British colony now, which went through mounting hurdles following white minority leader Ian Smith’s unilateral declaration of independence in 1965, the UN economic sanctions imposed by Britain, and the liberation struggle by the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) led by Robert Mugabe and the Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU) headed by Joshua Nkomo.
Now aid agencies in Zimbabwe have appealed to donors to provide 378 million U.S. dollars requested in December 2009 to support humanitarian and early recovery efforts in the country.
Lack of funding at this crucial time could derail progress made between the latter part of 2009 and now, warned OCHA on March 12. “Zimbabwe has been plagued by widespread humanitarian suffering in recent years, driven in part by long-running political strife”.
There is need for vigilance as the humanitarian situation is still precarious and prone to sudden shocks, OCHA said, adding that the available funding is insufficient to address the country’s humanitarian needs.
“Despite some improvement in Zimbabwe’s humanitarian situation – largely attributable to political changes that positively influenced socio-economic conditions and greater cooperation between the Government of Zimbabwe, aid partners and donors – it remains fragile.”
More than 343,000 adults and 35,000 children under the age of 15 urgently need antiretroviral (ARV) treatment out of 1.2 million people living with HIV/AIDS, and every third child under the age of five is chronically malnourished.
In addition, OCHA highlighted the country’s substantial cereal shortage, predicting that almost 2 million people will need food assistance at the peak of the 2010 hunger season between January and March, on top of a cholera outbreak, which has spread to half of Zimbabwe’s 10 provinces since September 2009.
“This is a critical moment for the UN and partners to support both humanitarian and recovery activities in Zimbabwe,” said UN assistant secretary-general for Humanitarian Affairs Catherine Bragg.
In fact, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Harare government revealed that the situation there for women and children has deteriorated in the past five years.
“Some 100 children under five years of age will die today in Zimbabwe,” a bleak statistic that is part of new social development data released by the UN in November 2009.
A Multiple Indicator and Monitoring Survey (MIMS), which was conducted in May 2009, reported a decline in access to many key social services for women and children, particularly for the poorest populations and in rural areas.
The data underscores the deterioration that has occurred in the social sectors in the last few years and the tragic consequences that have resulted, said Peter Salama, UNICEF representative. “Today and everyday in Zimbabwe 100 children below five years of age are dying of mostly preventable diseases.”
The data showed a 20 per cent increase in the mortality rate of children under five since 1990, the baseline year for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), with children in rural areas and those in the poorest “one fifth of the population being the most vulnerable.”
“Major causes of these deaths are HIV and AIDS, newborn disorders, pneumonia and diarrhea”, according to the UN survey which also points out that 1 in 2 pregnant women in rural areas were now delivering at home and that 39 per cent countrywide were not accessing the requisite medical facilities for delivery.
“Meanwhile, 40 per cent where not attended to at birth by a skilled attendant posing huge dangers for both mothers and newborns.”
UNICEF says that these findings confirm the result of previous research indicating that user fees and other financial barriers are limiting women’s access to life-saving obstetric services.
Data from the national survey, which had a sample size of 12,500 households in Zimbabwe, revealed limited support to the country’s orphaned and vulnerable children, with “79 per cent not receiving any form of external assistance”. Further, around two-thirds of all children in the country do not possess birth certificates.
These are pieces in the current Zimbabwe human puzzle, which is similar to that in most former European colonies in this one-billion inhabitants continent, one third of whom is chronically hungry, according to latest UN data.
Meanwhile, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which groups the most developed countries including former European colonisers of Africa, informed in February that Africa is likely to get only 12 billion out of the 25 billions dollar aid increase pledged by the world's richest powers in 2005. (IDN-InDepthNews/14.03.2010)
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