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UN aid agencies deeply concerned over Zimbabwe's order to halt work by aid groups

UN aid agencies deeply concerned over Zimbabwe's order to halt work by aid groups

Aid agencies have expressed deep concern about Zimbabwe's order for humanitarian groups to suspend work, an order that sparked fears that food might be used by the government as a political weapon.
The U.S. ambassador to Zimbabwe said the government was trying to become the sole distributor of food to help President Robert Mugabe stay in power. Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai will challenge Mugabe in the June 27 presidential runoff.
Ambassador James McGee said the government is supplying food primarily to its supporters. He said the U.S. embassy has evidence the government is offering food to opposition members only if they turn in identification that would allow them to vote.
"This is further punishment of the population of Zimbabwe that will single out people who are not Mugabe supporters," said Carolyn Norris, deputy director of the Africa division with Human Rights Watch.
"It puts food distribution firmly in hands of government," she said.
Britain's foreign aid chief called the decision to restrict humanitarian agencies' work "indefensible," and said it showed "the lengths to which Mugabe will go to cling to power."
"For Robert Mugabe to use the threat of hunger as a political weapon shows a callous contempt for human life," Douglas Alexander said Friday in London. He said it was "offensive and absurd" for the government to suggest international NGOs were interfering in politics.
"For the sake of millions of the poorest and most vulnerable people in Zimbabwe, aid must be allowed to get through," Alexander said.
The government ordered aid groups Thursday to suspend field work indefinitely.
The order hampers aid delivery to more than 4 million people in the impoverished African country, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.
"If we don't have these NGOs to work with, the humanitarian programs of the U.N. cannot be carried out," office spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs said. U.N. agencies conduct operations in Zimbabwe with help from such groups.
Scant rain has increased the risk of drought and farmers lack seeds for planting, she said.
"Food security in Zimbabwe is deteriorating, leaving an increasing number of people vulnerable," she said.
Zimbabwe's social welfare minister, Nicholas Goche, said when ordering the aid groups to suspend operations that they were violating the terms of their agreement with the government, according to a brief statement seen Thursday by The Associated Press.
The United Nations' World Food Program said the government order "will halt our food distributions in Zimbabwe and put lives at further risk."
"WFP food distributed by NGO partners will cease, preventing 314,000 of the most vulnerable people in Zimbabwe from receiving food in June," said Peter Smerdon, the agency's spokesman in Nairobi.
Human Rights Watch said the halt of aid groups' work was not surprising.
"This is part of a campaign. There has been extreme campaign of violence, and torture, for people who voted for MDC," Norris said, referring to the opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change. "This is to intimidate and spread fear before the elections in three weeks' time."
CARE International said earlier this week that it was ordered to stop its aid operations pending an investigation of allegations it was campaigning for the opposition. CARE denies doing that.
CARE International's Africa communications director, Kenneth Walker said the government's order will affect the people "very badly."
"All of the NGOs together provide some very basic services to several million Zimbabweans," he said.
"Nobody is going to starve to death tomorrow," Walker said. "But obviously the longer the suspension remains, the more dire the circumstances become."
The suspension of CARE's activities alone immediately affects half a million Zimbabweans, according to the U.N.
Zimbabwe's National Association of Non Governmental Organizations, after an emergency meeting Friday in Harare, challenged the government to name charity, aid and civic groups it alleged were in breach of regulations and specify allegations against them.
"One cruel direct impact of the ban will be that people living with HIV/Aids will increasingly die since many NGOs provide assistance in the form of home-based care and anti-retroviral medication," the NANGO group said in a statement.
The U.N.'s Children Fund said the decision to suspend aid operations meant more than 185,000 children would not receive food aid, education and health care. With one child in four an orphan and families struggling with massive inflation, children already have been paying a heavy toll.
"To see their situation further deteriorate through stopping aid workers from delivering relief to those in need is unacceptable," UNICEF said in a statement.
Life expectancy is only 35.5 years in Zimbabwe, and more than half the population of 12 million people lives on less than US$1 (euro.65) a day, according to the U.N.
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Associated Press writers Jill Lawless and Gregory Katz in London as well as Desmond Butler in Washington and Donna Bryson in Johannesburg contributed to this report.


Updated : 2020-11-30 20:34 GMT+08:00