Zimbabwe, September 2009
I'm writing this piece from Zimbabwe, where I'm visiting in my twin roles of Shadow Environment Secretary and Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global TB. I've been accompanied by Mike Mandelbaum, the chief executive of the Brighton based charity TB Alert.
Until recent years, Zimbabwe was renowned for being the "bread basket" of Africa. However, due to the appalling mismanagement and corruption of the Mugabe regime the Zimbabwean economy has completely collapsed. GDP has declined by half since 1998 and unemployment is estimated to be a desperate 94 per cent.
One of the most notorious examples of the appalling governance of Mugabe is the series of farm seizures that have taken place over the last decade, and are continuing. I met farmers who have had their farms removed by force, including one who returned from holiday to find his house and his farm occupied. The effect of this has not only been catastrophic for agricultural production, which has halved, but also has been disastrous for farm workers, many of whom are now without a job.
The impact of farm seizures has also had grave consequences for the nation's health, as half the population is now receiving food aid. HIV AIDS and TB are a serious problem in the country, and last year a malnourished population was hit by a cholera epidemic that killed over 4,000 people.
And this shows how important international aid is to the welfare of the people of Zimbabwe. A project I went to run by Médecins Sans Frontières is providing drugs to thousands of HIV and TB patients who would otherwise have no access at all to these life saving treatments.
But despite the serious decline that the country has suffered in the last ten years, there is some optimism that due to the power sharing arrangement now in place between Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai, the country can move forward to a brighter future.
Let's hope so. The people of Zimbabwe certainly deserve one.