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Swelling numbers of internally displaced people

Concerned Non-governmental orgnisation led by The Norwegian Refugee Council have called on the Zimbabwean government and non-governmental organisations to put in place mechanisms to assist these internal refugees, displaced by the controversial land redistribution programme, political violence currently besieging the country and drought.
Rodrick Mukumbira

Thousands of people in Zimbabwe were displaced before the March presidential election when marauding Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU PF) supporters went on the rampage. More than 100 people were killed in the run-up to the election, which was controversially won by President Robert Mugabe.

More displacements are taking place in rural areas where a militia being trained under a national service programme is causing havoc to suspected opposition supporters.

Amani Trust, a local NGO also says people are being displaced on a daily basis, but the government denies. It says to date over 800 000 people have been displaced and the Commercial Farmers Unions (CFU), made up of affected white farmers, say the bulk of these are farm workers.

CFU and the Ministry of Public Service say there were about 500 000 farm workers on large-scale commercial farms in 1999, before the government's controversial fast track land reform began. The CFU estimate that at the end of 2002 as many as 400 000 farm workers had been affected by land occupations.

NRC says although information is lacking on exactly how many people are on the move, aid to IDPs should not be delayed. The council suggests that IDPs should immediately be targeted with food aid with particular attention paid to displaced orphans and female-headed homes.

The United Nation's World Food Programme (WFP) and Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) estimate that about six million Zimbabweans require foodaid as a consequence of drought and the government's controversial land reform programme.

George Olesh of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) says there is currently an ongoing independent assessment of the number and situation of food security-related displaced persons in the country. "The current lack of accurate figures on the number of IDPs in need of aid has definitely complicated a co-ordinated humanitarian response," he says.

An 2002 assessment by the Internal Displaced People Unit of the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs called for attention to the urgent need to fill "important information gaps" on internally displaced people.

The report, released in the last quarter of the year, is the most recent attempt to locate and quantify the number of people who have been displaced because of political violence, drought and economic hardships.

While the 2002 assessment identified only three categories of displaced persons - farm workers, victims of violence and victims of starvation, UNDP now says that it needs to include miners and skilled labourers who have had to move around the country in search of employment.

Another category, the assessment suggests, is that of ruling ZANU-PF supporters and veterans of the liberation struggle that brought independence in 1980 who were encouraged to invade farms in the early stages of the land reform programme but who are now being evicted from these farms as party chiefs and influential government officials take possession.

Olesh says: "We still need to define what exactly constitutes an Internally displaced person in the Zimbabwean context given the complex nature of the current situation."

However, there is no comprehensive or corroborated data on exact numbers of those forcibly displaced, or any precise information on where the displaced have gone.

But the internal displaced people situation in Zimbabwe differs in that while a significant proportion of farm workers have been able to remain on the farms, an increasing number have lost their ability to sustain themselves, the assessment notes.

"In addition, the looming food crisis will impact enormously on farm workers as some 85 per cent of their food consumption came from cash purchases. Hence, even if they are able to remain on farms, their inability to feed themselves because farm operations are severely curtailed, will induce many to move in search of other employment or support," the assessment says.

The most reliable data on displacement has been provided by a sample survey undertaken in January by the Farm Community Trust of Zimbabwe (FCTZ). FCTZ undertook a sample survey of 235 large-scale commercial farms, representing 10 per cent of all farms in the provinces of Mashonaland West, Central and East as well as Manicaland Province, in north and eastern Zimbabwe respectively. It was established that 26,693 permanent and seasonal farm workers still reside on the farms as of January 16.

On the other hand, the survey noted, some 252,000 people had left. Victims of violence are even more difficult to define and enumerate than the displaced farmers.

Tony Rinker of Amani Trust says: "Because the displaced fear repression and further violence, they seek to remain 'underground', which makes their enumeration and location very tenuous." Consequently, their numbers are variously estimated among the NGO and human rights community at anywhere from 200 000 to 400 000.

The UN assessment also highlights the plight of the substantial orphan population that has been generated by the HIV/Aids pandemic. The Farm Orphan Support Trust has estimated that there is on average 12 orphans per commercial farm in the three Mashonaland provinces and Manicaland.

Consequently there has been a significant increase in child-headed households living in acute poverty. Also many of the elderly are now required to support their grandchildren.

One of the factors hampering assistance to those in need is that a large number of internally displaced people are in areas of the country where the UN has never had any need for a presence, namely in the large-scale commercial farming areas.

Most NGOs have also been banned by marauding ZANU-PF youths from accessing areas in Matabeleland region in southern Zimbabwe where the vast majority is in need of food aid, an allegation the government constantly denies. Villagers in some areas in this region have taken to eating wild roots to survive as they await the arrival of humanitarian organisations.

"A crisis of unimaginable proportions is unfolding in the area and if no immediate steps are taken to arrest the situation lives could be lost," says one of the region’s opposition parliamentarian, Moses Mzila. He says the UN should broaden its geographical boundaries of food aid to ensure that all needy people have improved access to basic services.

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