Zimbabwe needs over $700 million in humanitarian aid

HARARE (Reuters) – Zimbabwe needs $719 million in urgent humanitarian help in 2009, as the country struggles to attract Western aid in an attempt to emerge from a decade of economic collapse, the United Nations said on Monday.

The southern African country suffered economic implosion, pushing inflation to a record 231 million percent last year in June, leaving nine in ten people without a job, and a cholera outbreak that killed more than 4,200.

But the formation of a new unity government by old foes President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai in February has raised hopes that the once vibrant economy may begin to recover.

The UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Zimbabwe, Agostinho Zacarias, and Zimbabwe government officials jointly appealed to foreign donors to provide funding to meet the humanitarian needs.

"It is imperative that all partners, particularly donors, buttress the CAP (Consolidated Appeal Process) and generously provide financial support to the implementation of the programmes contained in the current revision if the humanitarian community is to meet the current objectives," Zacarias said.

Zacarias said aid agencies had last November initially put the country’s humanitarian needs at $550 million. The figure had now been raised because of growing needs in the sectors of agriculture, health, education, food aid and safe water.

Donors had provided 45 percent of the initial requirements as of the end of May.

Zimbabwe’s Red Cross and its partners said last week the country was on the brink of having 100,000 cholera infections, highlighting the decay in water and sewage infrastructure.  

The UN says six million Zimbabweans have limited or no access to clean water, more than half the population may require food aid this year, while 44,000 children under five years need treatment for acute malnutrition.

The new unity government has formulated a 100-day plan, seeking to revive the economy and set targets for political reforms in a bid to convince donors to release funding.

"Consequences of a protracted economic meltdown and lack of agricultural inputs for the 2008/9 agriculture season, compounded by the collapse of critical social services, continue to place the country in a situation of structural emergency," the UN said.

Zimbabwe says it requires $8.3 billion for full economic recovery, but Western donors are pressing the country on wider reforms, including opening up the media, reversing nationalisation laws and an end to farm invasions.