Long Road Ahead for Zimbabwe

Priest Says Food Is Still 1st Priority

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HARARE, Zimbabwe, SEPT. 18, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Though the Zimbabwean government finally reached a power-sharing deal to end conflict over contested elections, the real priority for the country remains feeding the people, affirms an episcopal conference official.

Father Frederick Chiromba, secretary-general of the Zimbabwe bishops' conference, emphasized the challenges that lie ahead, despite Monday's agreement between long-ruling Robert Mugabe and opposition leaders Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara. Under the deal, Tsvangirai becomes prime minister and chairs a board that will oversee the cabinet.

After attending the signing of the deal on Monday, Father Chiromba said that getting food and medicines to Zimbabweans were among the immediate challenges. The once prosperous country is in total economic collapse, with inflation officially listed at over 11 million percent.

"There is a great need to provide basic food aid as people are coping with a bad harvest and of course, the country's dire economic situation," Father Chiromba said.

Some 2 million Zimbabweans depend on aid from international organizations in order to eat. Caritas feeds some 1 million people and aids another 3 million with their projects.

All of the problems combined with poor harvests have caused some 3 million Zimbabweans to flee the country.

"There are also no medicines in the hospitals, doctors do not even have aspirins to give out," said Father Chiromba.

While the episcopal conference official affirmed that the people of Zimbabwe are relieved by the signing of the deal, he stressed that those traumatized by violence need healing and reconciliation.

"The Catholic Church has always played a pivotal role in prioritizing the needs of the people and will continue to do so," he said, "as we all hope and pray that people's lives will now change for the better."