Peter Wachenuka, (not his real name), a bubbly boy almost two years old, is playing house with two friends of his age. Suddenly, they all leave the veranda of his poorly-built house in Caledonia Section 4 and disappear behind the house.
Peter’s mother, Ellen Masara, has just gone inside the house to continue with her chores.
Twenty minutes later, Peter’s lifeless body is found floating in an unprotected well behind the house.
Police in Mabvuku say a number of children in Caledonia resettlement area have drowned in unprotected wells.
More than 10 children have died and three are reported to have been rescued before almost drowning. With many of the wells still remaining unprotected, the danger still looms.
“Our homesteads are not safe and our children lack recreational facilities such as nursery schools and well-serviced playgrounds found in other developed communities, therefore our children have nowhere to play and interact,” said Wellington Chiwara, a Caledonia resident living in Section 4, about 30 kilometres south-east of the capital.
Drowning cases have also been reported at Hopley Farm and Whitecliff, both new informal settlements that resulted from the chaotic land reforms instituted between 2000 and 2006 by the former government and in the aftermath of the unpopular Operation Murambatsvina in 2005.
Residents in these communities have decried lack of security and recreational services for children around homesteads. They blame the government and donor agencies for ignoring their plight.
“The area is littered with shallow and deep pits dug by sand extractors and they leave them unfilled and with the heavy rainfalls that we are currently experiencing they get filled up and become a menace to people, especially children,” said Anna Makotore from Hopley Farm, about 15 kilometres south-west of the capital.
Surveys by non-governmental organisations have shown that most informal settlements lack proper child care and protection facilities.
Denzel Malikwa, the junior Member of Parliament for Tafara-Mabvuku constituency said: “Good local governance also means creating and building a child-friendly living environment and minimising policy swings and uncertainties that have tended to undercut child protection measures.”
Defence for Children International (Zimbabwe) director, Elfas Zadzagomo, said: “People living in newly resettled areas are in a dilemma in view of the lack of complete and properly developed infrastructure, like housing structures and water points and this tends to expose them to many dangers like heavy rainfall and floods and against this background, children become the biggest victims.”
According to a development policy analyst, it is possible to turn around these “neglected areas which resemble slums” and bring in good investments for the benefit of the inhabitants and their children.
“A vital component of any positive resettlement plan must include the critical constraints that these neglected areas which resemble slums face and build community assets and services that ensure that their children are safe and well- protected,” said Dr Chrispen Sukume, a development consultant based in the capital.
Recurring financial crises in the last decade and the lack of donor support have also led to broader and inclusive social improvements remaining elusive, especially for underdeveloped communities.
“Comprehensive programmes to improve the physical infrastructure and community services, recreational, education and income-generating activities can help boost both living conditions and the local economies of the new resettlement areas,” said Ignatius Musona, Advocacy programmes director responsible for informal settlements at Silveira House in Chishawasha.
“In such areas like Caledonia and others similar to it, community-driven development efforts facilitate efficient delivery of social basics like roads, electricity, potable water and technical assistance,” he said.
Zimbabwe needs to follow flagship examples of other countries like Brazil where communities together with the government and development agencies prioritise, manage and monitor investments through participatory municipal councils, a vision based on local knowledge.
“A key way to develop peri-urban areas is through concerted actions in social policy formulation and infrastructure growth with additional local efforts that ensure that the vulnerable, like children, benefit much more,” said Senator Keresensia Chabuka (MDC-T) of Mutare Urban constituency.
According to United Nations (UN) estimates, because of population growth, the number of the poor actually increased to around 130 million in the early 2000s, with a quarter of these being children living in squalor.
The UN also notes that the key to reducing poverty and child mortality in underdeveloped areas is through providing the poor with opportunities to improve their living conditions through infrastructure growth and development.
The consensus underlying the eight Millenium Development Goals to 2015 is a good incentive for the government and the donor community to implement appropriate policies that must include reinforcing child security and their sound protection.