The first headline I saw yesterday morning predicted a dire future for one of the world’s most troubled nations: “Zimbabwe may soon collapse.”
African National Congress president Jacob Zuma attributed this warning to former UN secretary general Kofi Annan and former US president Jimmy Carter, both of whom were denied entrance to Zimbabwe last weekend as part of a delegation from the conflict-resolution group The Elders.
“Zimbabwe may soon collapse.” For some reason, this particular phrase keeps ringing in my mind, even though I feel like I can’t even fully understand what it means. How can a whole country, all its infrastructure, just fall apart? What does that mean for the millions of people who live there? When does it cease to exist? And what is the threshold—the point of no return—when things can’t possibly get any worse?
As an outsider looking in on Zimbabwe, it seems to me like things must be pretty close to that point right now. I’ve read that chronic food shortages, and the world’s highest inflation rates (over one million percent), mean that many people have no choice but to literally forage in the woods for food. Life expectancy for women is just 35 years, and unemployment stands at 85 percent. In the last two weeks, the lack of clean water and sewers has led to a cholera outbreak—and with few hospitals or doctors left, at least 300 people have died from this treatable disease.
Meanwhile, Oxfam field staffers are helping to fight the outbreak by handing out hygiene kits, and basic supplies like soap, buckets, and water. They’re hoping it will be enough to avert a full-blown health crisis.
“Oxfam’s call to the political parties of Zimbabwe, leaders in the region and to the global community is to deal with this humanitarian crisis, irrespective of the status of political negotiations,” said Charles Abani, Regional Director for Oxfam in Southern Africa. “In the interest of the poorest and most vulnerable Zimbabweans… all concerned parties need to hasten a political settlement.”
Haste is the key word here, I think, for a people whose lives seem balanced on the brink of disaster. Let’s hope that peace comes quickly, while there’s still a country left to save.