People queue for fresh water in Chimanimani, Zimbabwe, Saturday, March 23, 2019 after Cyclone Idai caused floods that swept through Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi.

© 2019 AP Photo/KB Mpofu

Massive flooding in the wake of tropical cyclone Idaihas triggered a humanitarian crisis in ZimbabweMozambiqueand Malawi, killing at least 700 people, leaving hundreds missing and thousands displaced and in need of emergency aid. 

As international donors, private corporations, religious groups, and ordinary citizens offered massive supportfor cyclone victims, the Zimbabwe media reported that alleged supporters of the ruling Zimbabwe African Nationalist Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) were denying some cyclone survivors emergency aid, including food, because they were believed to support the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) political party. Three women who spoke to Human Rights Watch on the phone from  Chimanimani district said on Monday that a ZANU-PF rural official denied them food aid because they were known MDC supporters. They said ZANU-PF supporters in party regalia were in charge of distributing the aid.  

Videos and picturescirculating on social media showed ZANU-PF party branded vehicles and attired supporters transporting and handling aid sent by humanitarian agencies and well-wishers.  

The allegations of politicized and partisan distribution of emergency aid should be urgently, thoroughly, and impartially investigated, and anyone found to be pilfering or misusing aid should be held to account. Donors and aid agencies who uncover aid being diverted or distributed along partisan lines should report that publicly. 

Zimbabwe’s minister of media, information and broadcasting services, Monica Mutsvanga, who is also senator for the Mutare-Chimanimani constituency, the area most affected by cyclone Idai, disputed reportsthat survivors in Chimanimani and Chipinge districts were denied food aid for supporting the MDC. Following complaints about partisan distribution of emergency aid, the local government minister, July Moyo, told parliamentthis week that no political party activists would be allowed to distribute emergency aid to the cyclone Idai-affected communities. 

The government’s swift move to bar political parties from aid distribution could help ensure that those most in need of emergency help receive it. Investigating the alleged abuse of aid distribution and appropriately punishing those responsible would send a clear message that the government won’t tolerate the politicization of aid. It will also help reassure donors large and small that their life-saving support reaches the intended beneficiaries.