Source: UN Intergrated Regional Information Networks
27 September 2007, http://allafrica.com
Rural commuters in Zimbabwe cannot catch a bus to their nearest clinic or shop anymore as the spiralling economic decline forces many transport operators to shut down their services in the countryside.
"A lot of money is required to maintain buses, most of which are ageing and, given that foreign currency cannot be accessed easily for the importation of spare parts and tyres, operators are left with no choice but to ground their fleet ... for those that are still functioning, the owners tend to opt for city-to-city roads that are not as bad as rural roads," said Miller Musanhi, president of the Zimbabwe Rural Transport Operators (ZRTO).
Erratic fuel supplies, caused by the lack of foreign exchange to import it in adequate quantities, had also forced operators to reduce the number of buses plying rural routes, leaving villagers unable to access health services, schools and even grocery stores.
Raina Tomu, 70, who lives in Mukosa, a village about 350km northeast of the capital, Harare, resorted to consulting traditional healers after she could not get to the nearest hospital. "Many pregnant mothers die when they develop complications and, when I am relatively well, I help as a midwife; I have witnessed a number of children die at birth simply because we don't have buses coming to Mukosa," Tomu told IRIN.
Many teachers, disgruntled by the poor transport service, have left a nearby school. At the beginning of the new school term earlier this month, fuel shortages left thousands of returning pupils and teachers in rural areas stranded for days, as only a few buses were available to carry them.
According to various studies commissioned by the Zimbabwean government and the World Bank, conducted between 2003 and 2006 by Practical Action Consulting, a development consultancy, poor transport in Zimbabwe's rural areas was entrenching poverty.
"The inability of rural people to access goods and services usually results in isolation," said a summary of the studies posted on the consultancy's website. "In turn, isolation entrenches poverty. This poverty could mean: poverty of ideas, poverty of innovation, poverty of opportunity, poverty of health, poverty of income and even poverty of hope for a better future."
Poor transport systems in rural areas had brought stunted access to economic facilities such as markets and grinding mills, social facilities such as clinics, hospitals, schools, telephones and government offices, besides the difficulty of meeting the demand for farming transport, particularly during the harvest.
Rural transport in Zimbabwe had failed to develop because of the lack of an effective national travel policy, inadequate consultation between operators and local government departments, and the deterioration of road infrastructure owing to poor funding, the studies noted.
Mukosa resident Ndaiziva Bhamusi was forced to close down his small shop and grinding mill after the only bus that plied the route stopped in December 2006. "While I regret lost income, it should be remembered [that] people from surrounding villages have been affected negatively," he said.
"Being peasant farmers, they relied on those buses not only for the sugar, cooking oil, tea, and maizemeal that I milled, but for the transportation of agricultural inputs from the nearest town, Mount Darwin. My fear is that their farming activities will suffer drastically if we don't urgently get another bus."
The stranglehold of Zimbabwe's seven-year economic recession, characterised by runaway inflation - currently at around 6,500 percent - acute shortages of essential commodities, power and water, as well as foreign currency, has left more than 80 percent of the population unemployed.
[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations ]