x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Funds crunch stalls housing project

An ambitious nationwide housing project in Zimbabwe that followed an unpopular government order to demolish urban slums has stalled because of lack of funds.

Children walk past a makeshift house at a slum in Hatcliffe, Harare. Some 800 people have died of cholera in Zimbabwe in the past four months and the epidemic could spiral out of control, health officials fear.
Children walk past a makeshift house at a slum in Hatcliffe, Harare. Some 800 people have died of cholera in Zimbabwe in the past four months and the epidemic could spiral out of control, health officials fear.

BULAWAYO, ZIMBABWE // An ambitious nationwide housing project that followed an unpopular government order three years ago to demolish urban slums, has stalled because of lack of funds. During May and June of 2005, Robert Mugabe, the president, unleashed armed police and army units with bulldozers to carry out a nationwide clean up campaign, code-named Operation Murambatsvina (Operation Drive out Rubbish). It was halted only after the United Nations sent in two of its senior officials who condemned it in reports in July.

The government later announced a new reconstruction scheme, Operation Garikai/Operation Live Well, under which it would build two-roomed houses in cities across the country. But, since it was poorly planned and had no budget, the few existing houses constructed have no piped water or sewage service. Many are still unfinished. As urban council by-laws prohibit occupation of houses built on un-serviced stands - those without water, electricity or sewage works - many are empty, but in other areas such as Bulawayo and Harare, ruling party supporters have moved in. Health experts now fear cholera outbreaks in the unsanitary locations after some 800 people have died of the disease countrywide over the past four months.

Cephas Ndokwana of Figtree, a small town south-west of Bulawayo, said houses built under the government programme have no sewer, and so cannot be occupied. "Only a few do not have fittings such as window and door frames, doors and panes. However, all of the houses built have no water and sewer connections," Mr Ndokwana said. Zimbabwe is facing its worst economic crisis in history, with inflation at 230 million per cent. Food, energy and foreign currency shortages are widespread. Any money allocated for a government programme is effectively eroded by inflation within a matter of months.

Mr Mugabe said the undertaking was intended to tidy up urban areas and get rid of criminals. He pledged that his government would spend US$130 million (Dh478m) to build 1.2 million houses by 2008. But the slum clearance was condemned by the international community. Amid the storm, the UN sent two senior officials, its habitat executive director, Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka, and Jan Egeland, the UN emergency relief co-ordinator. Ms Tibaijuka's report in July of 2005 estimated that 700,000 people were directly left homeless or jobless by the slum clearance, with 2.4 million affected indirectly. Her report also slammed the operation as "indiscriminate", "unjustified" and against "international law".

Her report also cast doubt over the government's ability to meet its housing target, warning that Zimbabwe would take years to recover from such an unplanned, chaotic operation. Indeed the past three years have seen little or no activity on reconstruction. In fact, the slums and unlicenced businesses that were razed at that time have re-emerged. By late last year, some 4,700 houses had been built across the country, according to official statistics, wide off the 1.2m target. No figures have been made available since. The Combined Harare Residents' Association (CHRA) said the rebuilding bid on a farm called Whitecliffe, has failed to provide decent housing for victims of the clean up campaign.

CHRA said residents displaced during the clean-up are still stranded at Hopley Farm and Caledonia settlement centres near Harare where there are no sanitary facilities. "Most displaced residents found themselves stranded without any shelter as Operation Garikai benefited some political apologists who already had shelter elsewhere," said CHRA in a statement marking World Habitat Day, on Oct 10. "Most residents live in abject poverty and those who are lucky enough to get a place to erect their shacks cannot access water, electricity and other services. The housing situation is desperate." The same applies to Bulawayo, the second largest city, where Winos Dube, the head of Bulawayo United Residents' Association (BURA), said the pace of reconstruction at Cowdray Park was initially fast, but has since slowed. "We have some BURA members who were listed as beneficiaries," Mr Dube said, "but have not occupied their houses either because construction of the structures is incomplete or because the stands have no water or sewer lines. "Others, however, have occupied their half-built houses. This was a fast-track programme but the right way to do it was to connect electricity, water and sewer lines to the stands first before construction and occupation." Last year, the opposition-led Bulawayo City Council clashed with the central government when it passed a resolution to evict and bar residents of Cowdray Park from occupying their houses, insisting it was illegal for them to reside in half-built homes that lack water or toilets. The council has also refused to issue them with certificates of occupation. Morris Sakabuya, the deputy minister of local government, public works and urban development, acknowledged that in most towns, the lack of resources had disrupted the building process. "But in other areas, such as Ruwa, residents have even installed satellite dishes on their houses," he said. "In the initial phase, houses were built on un-serviced stands because of lack of money. But we are also allocating residential stands for residents to develop. They can pool resources to develop roads, and connect water, electricity and sewer lines to their homes." tmpofu@thenational.ae