Monday, June 08, 2009

The Red Cross is feeding Zimbabwe's prisoners

The International Red Cross is now feeding Zimbabwe's prisoners to keep them from starving to death. The Red Cross is feeding over 6,300 prisoners and the numbers are expected to rise as the Red Cross expands the aid to more cities in Zimbabwe.

Before the recent harvest, some seven million people in Zimbabwe were receiving some sort of food assistance. The huge amount was caused by the collapse of the nation's economy and the cholera outbreak that killed thousands.

From the IRIN, we learn more about the Red Cross' operation in Zimbabwe and a documentary that may have helped to coax it.

Askar Umarbekov, ICRC head of operations in Zimbabwe, told IRIN that the prisons in most provinces had been surveyed, but declined to divulge the prisoners' state of health as all findings were confidential.

Prisons in the second city, Bulawayo, and most other provinces had been seen by the ICRC teams, but those in and around the capital, Harare, have yet to be visited.

A report by Zimbabwe's Association for Crime Prevention and Rehabilitation of the Offender, an NGO advocating the rights of prisoners, said at least 20 inmates were dying daily in the country's jails.

In March 2009 the South African investigative television documentary programme, Special Assignment, secretly filmed conditions in two of Zimbabwe's 55 prisons and revealed emaciated inmates surviving on a daily handful of prison rations of sadza, or maize-meal porridge, the staple food.

Justice and Legal Affairs Minister Patrick Chinamasa told local media a few days before the documentary was broadcast: "As I speak, the [overall] prison population is at its lowest - 14,000; we have never been that low." He admitted to poor nutritional levels, but dismissed reports that cholera was afflicting inmates.

Umarbekov said the documentary programme, Hell Hole, had had an impact but "was not directly linked" to the ICRC's "offer of services made in December 2008" to the prison authorities to assist in providing adequate nutrition to prisoners. Food assistance to prisons started in April 2009, he said.

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