International Community Statement on Humanitarian Access in Zimbabwe

The international community is deeply concerned about Zimbabwean government policies restricting humanitarian access, which are denying vulnerable Zimbabweans essential and life-saving support.

The June 4 suspension of humanitarian operations is estimated to have affected more than 1.5 million Zimbabweans already. This year’s poor harvest means that 5 million Zimbabweans will face a severe food crisis if the ban is not lifted. Without the immediate resumption of food aid across the country, widespread hunger and worsening malnutrition are unavoidable.

The magnitude of the humanitarian crisis requires the immediate and unconditional lifting of the suspension on all NGO field operations. Harassment of NGOs must cease immediately, and protection for humanitarian workers must be guaranteed. Timing is critical. Steps must be taken now in order for food to be available to those in need in future months. Moreover, resources currently identified for Zimbabwe are also needed elsewhere, and they cannot be reserved indefinitely.

We feel a sense of responsibility to sound the warning about the coming emergency.  Because the Government has not responded to our July 29 diplomatic appeal for full, safe and unhindered humanitarian access and restored humanitarian space, we feel we must now raise the profile of this issue publicly.

Full, safe and unhindered humanitarian access is our overriding concern.

However, we are also deeply concerned about the plight of the large numbers of internally displaced people (IDPs) in Zimbabwe, many of whom have fled political violence.  It is therefore essential that the Government work closely with the UN system to uphold the rights of displaced people, and ensure that any reintegration of IDPs happens on a voluntary basis, only when it is safe for them to return, and with close monitoring by the international humanitarian community.

The Memorandum of Understanding signed on 21 July between Zimbabwe’s  political parties states that they will work together to ensure …that humanitarian and social welfare organisations are enabled to render such assistance as might be required.  We are concerned that more than two weeks after the signing of the MOU, and despite our diplomatic appeals, we have seen no concrete steps taken to carry out this commitment.

In the absence of any positive response to this issue, and given the failings of the Government to protect vulnerable groups, including IDPs, the international community holds Zimbabwean Ministers and officials responsible.

Issued in Harare, August 8th 2008 by the Governments of Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, United Kingdom and the United States of America, and the European Commission, # # #

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