'Zim ruined by skewed policies'

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HARARE – Zimbabwe's once promising economy has been destroyed by President Robert Mugabe’s controversial policies, a European security think-tank has said.

The European Inter-agency Security Forum (EISF) said Zimbabwe was facing an imminent crisis that will require an international humanitarian response in the near to medium-term future due to bad economic policies.

“The dire economic situation precipitated, according to economists, by disastrous indigenisation policies that have choked foreign investment, the exhaustion of foreign exchange reserves and a collapse in commodity prices, combined with an estimated 80 percent unemployment rate, the worst drought in 35 years and outbreaks of communicable diseases paint a bleak future for Zimbabweans,” EISF researcher Nick Hanson-James said.

This comes as the International Rescue Committee (IRC) recently predicted that at least 4,4 million Zimbabweans may not have enough food to eat this year.

Hanson-James noted that humanitarian assistance will be the only hope for millions but will involve considerable operational difficulties.

The once-prosperous but now economically struggling country is battling cash shortages, high unemployment and company closures.

A new local currency, introduced late last year, has failed to end cash shortages, with many people still sleeping outside banks to access their money. Owing to the cash crunch, Mugabe’s government has failed to pay its workers on time since June last year.

“Police are now reduced to extorting money from drivers at roadblocks by imposing ‘fines’ to buy food or to contribute towards the payment of their colleagues’ salaries,” EISF said in a report titled Zimbabwe: A crisis unfolding.

Economic analysts blame Mugabe — in power since 1980 when the country gained independence from the United Kingdom — for failing to contain a debilitating economic crisis.

The World Health Organisation stated in 1985 that Zimbabwe’s health system was “amongst the best in the developing world”.

Three decades later, the country’s healthcare system has irretrievably broken down.

“Healthcare facilities are running below 30 percent of their capability, with chronic shortages of drugs and medical staff. The prohibitive price of medicines from private suppliers means that 64 percent of Zimbabweans are unable to access healthcare and curable ailments are often fatal. Accessing cash to pay for drugs is difficult,” EISF said.

The think-tank added that running water is only available in urban areas for one or two days per week.

“Families have taken to storing 20 and 50 litres of uncovered containers of water, increasing the risk of water-and mosquito-borne diseases in towns,” EISF added.

Local authorities have issued typhoid and cholera alerts, while experts predict that the situation may worsen, as drinking water is contaminated.

In 2008, 100 000 Zimbabweans were affected by an outbreak of cholera with 4 000 recorded deaths and if this reoccurs, the crippled healthcare system will collapse.

“Zimbabwe has become internationally isolated due to its internal and external policies and has burnt its bridges with agencies such as the International Monetary Fund, which could have offered a possible lifeline.

The humanitarian community should be prepared to intervene and operate should Zimbabwe’s fragile systems finally collapse, in what will be a challenging and difficult environment to operate in,” the think-tank added.

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