On Wednesday, Tsvangirai was sworn in as the country’s president by longtime prime minister and bitter political rival Robert Mugabe. The move altered months of political unrest after Tsvangirai claimed victory in last year’s election and was subsequently stonewalled in taking power by Mugabe, the nation’s longtime ruler.
The promise to pay teachers was welcome news to the Christian aid organization World Vision as well as UNICEF, an international aid arm of the United Nations.
In December, World Vision’s Senior Director of Humanitarian and Emergency Affairs Edward Brown told Everyday Christian that families, particularly in rural areas, were “scattered in a desperate search food.”
The crisis may be stemmed to some degree if schools re-open once teachers are paid. Schools are primary distribution centers for food aid. Foreign currency is valuable in the country because domestic monies have been devalued by very high inflation.
“With the recent announcement that Zimbabwe will begin using foreign currency, World Vision staff are saying it’s still too early to tell if teachers will go back to work,” said Rachel Wolff, World Vision’s Media Director for Disasters. “As you may know, teachers have not been reporting to school due to low wages. Beyond the need for Zimbabwe’s children to get an education, World Vision is extremely concerned about the effects on our feeding programs in schools, which can’t operate when classes are not in session.”
Zimbabwe is also entering the height of is “hunger period” where resources are scarce due to agricultural limitations.
“If schools remain closed, the feeding program will not commence, at this time, the height of the hunger period,” said World Vision’s Stewart Muchapera in Zimbabwe.
Against the backdrop of the political changes, UNICEF released a study Wednesday revealing that 94 per cent of schools in rural Zimbabwe remain closed.
“The education situation is a national disaster. It is imperative that the unity government focuses on this. Children in rural areas already live on the margins, many are orphaned, a huge number depend on food aid, they struggle on numerous fronts.” said Roeland Monasch, UNICEF Representative in Zimbabwe. “Now these children are being denied the only basic right that can better their prospects. It is unacceptable.”
The study came from routine visits across Zimbabwe which showed that 66 of 70 schools were abandoned. In the only fully operational school found during visits, a third of pupils were reporting for classes. Many of the abandoned schools have been vandalized.
The country is still wrestling with a cholera epidemic. Cholera has spread to become a larger issue in rural areas. About 3,000 people have died from cholera and there have been more than 54,000 reported cases.
“The outbreak is not yet under control,” said Wilfred Sikukula, World Vision’s cholera response manager in Zimbabwe. “It can best be described as having shifted from the urban centers, where it first manifested, to the rural areas.”
The water-borne nature of cholera is also heightening concerns that malaria may soon be on the rise. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) said today it was providing $200,000 to boost efforts at indoor malaria spraying and stave off further deterioration of the country’s public health system.