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Schools in Zimbabwe face bleak start to new year as water woes and supply shortages worsen

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Posted: January 14, 2008 5:39 p.m.
Updated: January 29, 2008 5:00 a.m.
HARARE, Zimbabwe — Rowdy crowds formed at clothing stores Monday in Zimbabwe as anxious parents searched for uniforms for a new school year overshadowed by rocketing fees, shortages of basic supplies and lack of electricity.
    Margaret Boora, a single mother, said she couldn’t raise the $200 for fees, exercise books and a uniform for her daughter’s first term at high school. She earns $15 a month as an office janitor, a typical wage for unskilled workers.
    ‘‘I don’t know what to do. It is not possible for me to find the money,’’ she said. A blazer and a hat with a school badge alone were priced at $72, nearly five times her monthly take-home pay. There are no cheaper schools within walking distance in her area and bus fares cost more than $1 a day.
    Parents at one store in downtown Harare were told school shoes were out of stock. But black market dealers were offering them for 80 million Zimbabwe dollars — about $40 at the dominant illegal exchange rate — at a street market in the western township of Mbare.
    Official inflation is estimated at around 24,000 percent but independent financial institutions put real inflation closer to 150,000 percent.
    Boora said her daughter would stay away from school unless dress regulations were relaxed. School authorities said they were awaiting instructions from the Education Ministry.
    In recent months, teachers have reported growing absenteeism, which is expected to worsen when schools reopen Tuesday.
    ‘‘A great many children won’t get back this term. Earnings have not kept up with prices,’’ said independent Harare economist John Robertson. ‘‘The futures of countless numbers of young people are being destroyed.’’
    Beleaguered businesses and residents were without water after power outages shut the main treatment plant — and this after weeks of torrential rains described as the worst since records started.
    Hotel staff said they were having to turn guests away for lack of water. One luxury downtown hotel drew its water from the swimming pool for washing and cleaning to conserve its tanks of drinking water.
    The nation is facing acute shortages of food, hard currency and gasoline in the economic meltdown that began in 2000 with the often violent seizures of thousands of white-owned commercial farms in the former regional breadbasket.
    A price freeze ordered by the government in June left store shelves bare of most basic goods but the freeze was eased in phases to restore the viability of producers and businesses. But supplies of goods have remained erratic.
    In the past month, Zimbabweans also faced chronic shortages of local cash. Lines outside banks and cash machines are a daily occurrence, along with power and water outages.

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