UN Accused of Cover Up of Zimbabwe Cholera, Belated Response, Memo to
Matthew Russell Lee
NATIONS, February 25 -- The UN often sides with and even pays money
to authoritarian governments, either as a cost of remaining in the
country or simply out of habit, as a social club of governments. But
in Zimbabwe, former UN humanitarian worker Georges Tadonki has alleged
in a case in the UN Dispute Tribunal in Nairobi, the UN falsely
predicted only 2000 cholera cases, when nearly 100,000 resulted, with
On February 23, Inner City Press asked for the UN's response to the
City Press: exposé by George Tadonki, who is OCHA’s head in
Zimbabwe, saying that he tried to raise the alarm about up to 30,000
cases of cholera in Zimbabwe and was told by Mr. [Agostinho]
Zacarias, as the country team leader, to downplay the number, such
that it was projected here that it would only be 2,000. I’m
assuming that you’ve seen it and I’m wondering what the UN’s,
since this really seems to say that the UN radically underplayed the
number of people that would die in Zimbabwe, what the UN’s response
to what this former UN employee is saying.
Nesirky: Well, on the specific details of the case, as the
proceeding is under way at a tribunal in Nairobi, we cannot comment
on the specific details. As for the broader question of “did the
UN cover up the scale of this cholera outbreak”, OCHA has given
fairly detailed guidance, which I have here. I don’t propose to go
through absolutely everything, but I’m sure if you contacted them
they will be able to give you more details. It’s fairly extensive
strange to have to separately request from OCHA a document that UN
spokesman Nesirky said that he had at the February 23 noon briefing,
later on February 23 Inner City Press emailed OCHA's spokesperson
asked to be sent the guidance.
spokesman responded, saying to call to be spoken to. Inner City Press
sent another email, asking for the "detailed guidance" in
writing. The next day, the OCHA spokesman still declined to provide
the promised guidance, asking Inner City Press what question it
Inner City Press had reported that
Harare, the Herald newspaper controlled by the Robert Mugabe
government this week quoted UNDP's "Resident Representative Dr
Agostinho Zacharias that 'We welcome reports that the authorities are
intensifying the anti-violence campaign, we encourage them to
continue to do so and ensure that violence is totally removed in all
parts of the country... there are also reports indicating that MDC
supporters are also resorting to violence and intimidation. This
state of affairs is unacceptable to the UNCT.'"
UNDP's resident coordinator to be, on behalf the rest of the UN,
"welcoming" the Mugabe government's "anti-violence
campaign" seems more than a little strange. The UN Spokesperson
said that Zacharias' written statement is available, but did not
answer if the UN or UNDP has sought any correction of Mugabe's
newspaper's use of Zacharias' comments. The Spokesperson called
Zacharias' comments "balanced." But in some cases,
particularly of violence, balance is not what's called for.
2010, Inner City Press forwarded the above quoted question, from the
UN noon briefing transcript, and asked again for the answers.
UN's Ban and Zim's Mugabe in Feb 2009, cholera
deaths not shown
February 25 the following arrived from OCHA's Deputy
Martin said, we cannot comment on any specific aspects of the case.On
the general allegations about the UN’s response in Zimbabwe, the
facts in this situation clearly showed that there was an acute crisis
on the ground and the UN and its partners responded accordingly.
There was never any attempt at covering up – the WHO surveillance
which informed all decision making was publicly available, as were
the OCHA sitreps and those of other agencies involved in the
response. The prevailing situation was described starkly in the 2009
Appeal document launched in November 2008.
the question of why the November 2008 appeal predicted 2,000 cholera
cases, this appeal was launched when the cholera outbreak was just
starting. Zimbabwe’s last cholera outbreak before this one was in
2002, when 3,125 people were infected and 192 died, so the prediction
of 2,000 was realistic when it was made. The appeal document spoke
very clearly about the possible risks posed by the situation in the
UN responded actively as the worsening assessments came in through
late 2008 and early 2009, repeatedly revising upwards the 2008 appeal
for Zimbabwe which ultimately reached a total of $502 million,
reflecting the changing circumstances on the ground. The 2008
Zimbabwe CAP became the third best funded CAP in the world that year.
The surveillance showing the increasingly alarming figures was widely
published - and the UN and its partners advocated widely and
regularly as the figures increased.
brief timeline of what was done by the UN around the appeal launch
2008 - the humanitarian partners led by the UN put out a “Emergency
Humanitarian Gap Analysis” requesting US$ 250 million, of which
cholera was $37 million and food security was $186 million.
2008 - Zimbabwe 2009 Consolidated Appeal was launched requesting $550
million including $67 million for health and WASH sectors, a large
part covering cholera response
2009 - The Minister of Health & Child Welfare (MoHCW) declared a
national emergency and called for international assistance to respond
to the cholera outbreak. The UN Humanitarian Coordinator and WHO
played a critical advocacy role in influencing the Zimbabwe MoHCW to
declare the out outbreak.
2008 - The Cholera Command and Control Centre (C4) was established.
2009 - The Cholera Operational Response Plan was developed in
November and December was issued, requesting a total of USD 17
million in addition to USD 24 million already received.
with the logistical and financial challenges of mounting a response
in this environment, there were problems of access for humanitarian
organisations, an unstable political environment, and significant
difficulties in getting proper assessments of the situation. Taking
all these factors together, that the cholera epidemic was brought
under control and that there is now almost no cholera in Zimbabwe was
a major achievement. We would always like to have saved more lives –
that is the raison d’etre of humanitarian work – but the
significant challenges that had to be overcome to make that happen
must not be minimized.
back on April
7, 2008 Tadonki sent to OCHA Undersecretary-General John Holmes an
assessment that the UN "not prepared to face the consequences of
an emergency silently in the making" and cited "hesitations
of the U.N. in responding to acts of political violence,"
warning that the coming months would see "dire consequences."
How does that
figure in the timeline OCHA has provided?
noted that on
February 24, the UN's Anthony
Banbury when asked about three rapes in
a UN camp for IDPs in Haiti said "three rapes? I'm almost
elated." Nesirky was asked about this on February 25, and said
that Banbury was "in the air" but that a statement from his
was expected. Eleven hours later, no statement had been provided.
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