Zimbabwe: The Elders intervene in humanitarian crisis

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A group of eminent global leaders known as ‘The Elders’ have pleaded with key donor governments and the European Commission (EC) to give aid and other support to crisis-sapped Zimbabwe. Among members of the group are; former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan, former United States president Jimmy Carter and Mandela’s wife Graça Machel.

In a statement on Thursday, the Elders said it had written to Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United States and the EC asking for aid on behalf of Zimbabwe.

The Elders said they were concerned about the lack of political and judicial reforms in Zimbabwe which suggested that there was considerable determination in some quarters to resist lasting political change.

However, the Elders said they believed that under the circumstance, the risks of inaction by donors outweighed the challenges of delivering increased aid to the inclusive government formed last February.

“The inclusive government needs more support to ensure that it can initiate the urgent stabilisation and early recovery programmes that the people so desperately need,” said Archbishop Desmond Tutu, chair of the Elders. “Now is not the time for donors to take a ‘wait and see’ approach. This is the best chance Zimbabweans have had for peace and prosperity in decades.”

Annan, who was together with former United States president Jimmy Carter and Mandela’s wife Graça Machel, barred by the government last November from entering Zimbabwe to assess the humanitarian situation in the country said there were times when a swift, generous and creative response is required.

“A rapid infusion of ‘humanitarian-plus’ resources are needed to help stabilise the country at this vulnerable stage in its recovery. Supporting the inclusive government to deliver better services will foster much needed change,” said Annan.

Donors provided around US$670 million in emergency aid to Zimbabwe in 2008 and more humanitarian assistance has been pledged for 2009, but they have indicated that they will not deliver long-term development support until the government implements much-needed political and economic reforms.

The Elders agree that full donor re-engagement should be linked to reforms, but in private letters sent to donors this week, they pointed out that there was a big gap between the provision of emergency food and medical supplies, and longer-term development assistance.

Humanitarian-plus funds, according to the Elders, were needed to bridge that gap, for example more funds were needed to rehabilitate water and sanitation infrastructure, especially after health experts blamed a devastating cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe on the broken down water and sewerage facilities.

The elders said more funds were also needed to provide teaching materials for primary and secondary schools, cover school fees for Zimbabwe’s estimated 1,3 million orphans and vulnerable children, support local food production, provide housing for the poor, manage waste and support the revival of the micro-finance sector.

The Elders acknowledged donor concerns about the need for proper and transparent use of aid, but said there were times when greater flexibility was required and suggested that ‘humanitarian-plus’ funds could be delivered through specially administered accountable mechanisms.

The Elders are a group of eminent global leaders convened by Mandela and Machel, who offer their experience and independent voices to support the resolution of conflict and the alleviation of human suffering.

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