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Blog Posted in avatar   Margaret Kriel's Blog

Villagers in Binga, Zimbabwe are surviving on roots, berries, leaves and the bark of trees.

By Margaret Kriel
Posted Jan 5, 2009 in Health
Binga is a vast, remote, inaccessible district in northern Zimbabwe. Possibly the most hostile of all Zimbabwe's areas, it boasts a population of about 130 thousand people and has a climate to challenge most of the arid areas of the world.
The Binga people, many of them of the Tonga Tribe, have traditionally been a feisty lot and their refusal to cow tow to the Zimbabwe ruling party has resulted in an almost total exclusion of the area as far as development, and food and medical distribution.
We visited Binga recently and witnessed a devastation that is an humanitarian disaster of major proportions.
Those villagers who live along the banks of the mighty Zambezi River are luckily able to grow subsistence crops and obtain fish from the River, but the people in the interior are literally slowly starving to death.
The road system is horrifying, gaping potholes festoon the tar roads and gut-wrenching corrugations pave the dirt roads, preventing most trucks and buses from entering the area.
Food Aid from NGO's is denied in Binga, an area that covers some 15000 square km (approximately 6000 square miles). There is only one NGO bravely operating in the area at present but sadly their food and seed donations supply but one tenth of that which is so desperately needed.
Tons of Sorghum seed for the crop-planting season were donated recently, but only half made its way into the soil as the recipients were forced to eat most of it, as they were so desperately hungry.
The rains came late this year and the frugal crops can be seen struggling in poor soils, totally devoid of any fertilizer, planted far too late in the growing season, and if there is any yield at all it will be just too late to save the people of this benighted district.
We visited the Binga Hospital, boasting three doctors to care for 130 thousand people, with only one working ambulance, and not a single basic drug in the entire hospital. No penicillin, no malaria tablets, no intravenous drips, no drugs at all for HIV, which is ravaging the seriously malnourished people of the area.
Although the hospital is huge with a capability of providing for hundreds of patients, an authority at the hospital, showed us the grand total of seven patients; two maternity cases, a youngster with a serious burn on his buttock, two small children with malaria and two very emaciated young women.
Most of the patients had been sent home, as there is absolutely no food at the hospital, also there is no money for transport to get to the hospital from the many remote areas of the region. If one is sick in Binga, one simply dies, as there is no money for food let alone for medicines and transportation.
We watched as a young boy had his broken wrist manipulated and placed in a plaster of Paris cast. Luckily there was at least a soupcon of anesthetic left for this youngster, whose father had ridden for forty km on his bicycle carrying the youngster on the cross bar to the only hospital within hundreds of miles. The X ray facility at the hospital has been broken for months so the operation was virtually done blind by one of these dedicated medical men.
A Priest in the area told of the untold misery and suffering of his people, how hundreds of destitute starving people come to his church daily in search of food and how often he had to turn them away as there was just not enough for everyone.
We watched in despair as every available man, woman and child spends every waking hour searching for edible roots, leaves, berries and the very bark of the trees.
The skies are clear and blue; no sign of rain for a week or so now, the tiny struggling sparse crops are already wilting. They will not be ready for harvesting for a few months still; it will however probably be too late to save hundreds of thousands of starving people.

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