Zimbabwe is in a "serious humanitarian crisis" with villagers surviving on wild berries and appealing for food aid that is not coming, the head of Christian Care in the southern African country has charged.
The Rev Forbes Matonga, the national director of Christian Care, which distributes food for UNICEF in Zimbabwe, said in a statement made available on 5 March, "Food security for Zimbabweans remains particularly precarious and this has seen the demand for general relief in Zimbabwe increasing because of a volatile mixture of challenges.
"Faced with these challenges, it is not enough, it is not adequate to look east or west or to the hills for answers but to look up to the Lord and stand still and know that he is God," said Matonga, a United Methodist whose aid group is a member of the church-backed ACT International alliance.
The heads of religious denominations in Zimbabwe released a statement on 3 March noting a "resurgence of politically-motivated acts of violence that the country is witnessing following the inauguration of the new government [of national unity]". They said that whatever the cause, it "is morally wrong, unacceptable and should be condemned and stopped".
The statement, which called for freedom of expression and a revamping of the economy, was not signed, but was released on a letterhead with logos of the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops' Conference, the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe and the Zimbabwe Council of Churches on it.
"The country needs reconciliation and healing," said the heads of denominations. "The Church in Zimbabwe has made plans to partner with other stakeholders and work towards national reconciliation and the healing of persons and communities at all levels as an important and essential first step into our new dispensation. This will be a process to address past hurts and permit a climate for reconstruction."
Meanwhile Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai said on 5 March the number of cholera cases and deaths in his country was probably much higher than has been reported. A recent report stated that there were 88 000 infected people and that 4000 have died of the lethal epidemic in Zimbabwe since August.
Zimbabweans say their struggle with a general humanitarian crisis that includes the cholera epidemic, widespread hunger and the breakdown of the country's health care system has been exacerbated by the collapse of the economy and political turmoil in their country. That is shown in the cholera epidemic which is worsened by a lack of clean water and good sanitation.
"In one village we managed to stop the spread since we were there to rehabilitate some boreholes the same week as they had an outbreak of cholera. Clean water saved the community," said Bongi Baker, director of Lutheran Development Service, which works with ACT.
For his part, Matonga noted, "The work of the church in Zimbabwe and ecumenical agencies like Christian Care and LDS has always tried to steer clear of the glare of the media while concentrating on the dispensation of the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ."
Matonga said his organization had reduced rations from 10 kilograms to five kilograms for each individual, saying "the food pipeline is drying up".
The UN Assistant Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, Catherine Bragg, told journalists at the end of her mission to Harare last week that the UN requires US$500 million to assist Zimbabwe with its humanitarian needs.
"We have to ensure that farmers have all the agricultural inputs for the next planting season, which begins in September," Bragg said. "If we do not act now, we could end up next year with a situation similar to what we have today."
Full statement by church heads: swradioafrica.com/pages/clergyonnewgov020309.htm
ACT International website: http://act-intl.org/
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]