Robert Mugabe, the only head of state that Zimbabwe had known since independence in 1980, was forced out of office by an unexpected coup in November 2017, and citizens of the economically battered country are now forced to tally the costs of his dictatorship. One of them is a health system in collapse.
A report in the British medical journal The Lancet describes the situation facing the country and its new president, Emmerson Mnangagwa:
“Hospitals have been without basic supplies, and health workers regularly strike over unpaid wages and poor working conditions. There are several causes: governmental neglect and a broader economic breakdown that has left little funding for health care, but also administration policies that repelled donors and aid agencies. . . . [T]here are now crucial questions about how quickly the new administration can turn the health system around — or whether it will.”
The health system in Zimbabwe — formerly the British colony of Southern Rhodesia — was once one of the best in Southern Africa. But as the Mugabe government led the country into economic decline, health went with it.
Public spending on health as a total percentage of gross domestic product fell from 7 percent in 2000 to 4.4 percent by 2007, according to the World Bank, The Lancet reported. Mugabe had antagonized donors with a land reform program that allowed poor black, often politically connected, farmers to invade and seize thousands of mostly white-owned farms. The Lancet report said that beginning in 2000, data showed Zimbabwe receiving far less assistance than neighboring countries like Zambia and Malawi. Money from outside began to be channeled into nongovernmental programs, but that was not sufficient.
The rates of HIV rose. Throughout most of the 2000s, life expectancy remained below 50 years, according to the World Health Organization. When a cholera outbreak began in 2008, the fatality rates were 10 times as high as the international norm, The Lancet reported. Rates of malaria, tuberculosis and neglected tropical diseases are also high.
After the swearing-in of a post-Mugabe administration, health officials said they needed $1.1 billion annually to begin restoring the system. They have been disappointed by President Mnangagwa. Only $408 million was allocated to health in a new budget.
10 Rivers in Asia and Africa Dump Most Plastic Into the Seas
A German Research Institute looking for the sources of the most plastic and other trash that is threatening sea life around the world has determined that about 90 percent of the waste originates in 10 large river systems. The results of the study, led by Christian Schmidt, a hydrologist at the government-funded Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research-UFZ in Germany, were first published last year in the Environmental Science and Technology journal. Eight of the ten polluters were in Asia and two in Africa.
The rivers that Schmidt and his colleagues found to be the major sources of plastic in ocean debris are, in order of magnitude, the Yangtze, Indus, Yellow, Hai He, Nile, Ganges, Pearl, Amur, Niger and Mekong.
The Yangtze, Yellow, Hai He, Pearl and Amur are in China; the Mekong in Southeast Asia; the Ganges and Indus in South Asia, and the Nile and Niger in Africa. All are heavily polluted.
In a news release from the German research center in October 2017, Schmidt explained that researchers analyzed scientific studies of the plastics carried by dozens of rivers and then converted the results of the studies into mutually comparable datasets and determined the ratio of these figures to the quantity of waste that is not disposed of properly in the respective catchment areas.
“We were able to demonstrate that there is a definite correlation,” Schmidt said in the news release. “The more waste there is in a catchment area that is not disposed of properly, the more plastic ultimately ends up in the river and takes this route to the sea.”
Schmidt said the next step is to determine how long the plastic takes to reach the sea once it gets into rivers. “It is important to be aware of this as the impact of a measure becomes apparent only with a corresponding time delay as existing pollution has yet to be washed into the sea,” he said. “Only when we are aware of roughly how long plastic debris remains in the respective river system will it also be possible to assess a measure to improve the waste management system in the catchment area.”
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Barbara Crossette is the senior consulting editor and writer for PassBlue and the United Nations correspondent for The Nation. She is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She has also contributed to the Oxford Handbook on the United Nations.
Previously, Crossette was the UN bureau chief for The New York Times from 1994 to 2001 and previously its chief correspondent in Southeast Asia and South Asia. She is the author of “So Close to Heaven: The Vanishing Buddhist Kingdoms of the Himalayas,” “The Great Hill Stations of Asia” and a Foreign Policy Association study, “India Changes Course,” in the Foreign Policy Association’s “Great Decisions 2015.”
Crossette won the George Polk award for her coverage in India of the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 and the 2010 Shorenstein Prize for her writing on Asia.
Forget the white farmers. They made their bed and had to lie in it – they could have done more to create a democratic Zimbabwe. Instead they hung onto power until they had to hand over to Mugabe in a war that helped impoverish the country.
Freedom is little more than a word – what Mr Mugabe gave Zimbabwe was progressive poverty, not freedom.
Of course there are health problems in Zimbabwe – along with abject poverty and the corruption that goes with it. It would be a difficult decision to give the massive aid that is needed to Zimbabwe when, in these early days, it is not known who will benefit.
The challenge for the UN and others is to recognise that the Government in Zimbabwe is responsible for the people. The impoverished people are not responsible for what the government has done to them and aid should be given in such a way that the people will benefit rather than the fat cats in government.