Zim.government would be liable for humantarian crisis

By Chief Reporter

HARARE - Donor countries on Friday warned Zimbabwe government ministers that they would be held personally liable for any humanitarian crisis arising from the refusal to lift the ban on relief agencies.

The Governments of Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, United Kingdom, the United States of America, and the European Commission, said the June 4 suspension of humanitarian operations by Social Welfare minister Nicholas Goche has affected more than 1.5 million Zimbabweans already.

The donor countries warned that steps must be taken now in order for food to be available to those in need in future months.

Timing is critical, warned the donor countries in a joint statement issued in Harare Friday. 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.

The donor countries said the Zimbabwe Government had not responded to a July 29 diplomatic appeal for full, safe and unhindered humanitarian access, and said they felt they must now raise the profile of this issue publicly.

While global condemnation of Mugabe’s ban on aid agencies was growing, a spokesman for a coalition of aid agencies in Harare , Fambai Ngirande immediately appealed to the donors not to punish the people of the southern African country for the actions of its government.

The government ban, coupled with political conflict has combined to threaten as many as 5 million poor and needy across Zimbabwe with starvation, famine or food shortages, Ngirande said.

This year’s poor harvest means that 5 million Zimbabweans will face a severe food crisis if the ban is not lifted, said the donors. 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. Full, safe and unhindered humanitarian access is our overriding concern.

The donor countries noted that despite the ongoing peace talks in South Africa between President Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party and the MDC, no concrete steps had been taken to lift the ban despite commitments to ensure this is done.

A Memorandum of Understanding signed in Harare on July 21 between Mugabe, MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai and leader of a breakaway MDC faction, Prof Arthur Mutambara in Harare states that they will work together to ensure …that humanitarian and social welfare organisations are enabled to render such assistance as might be required. 

The donor countries said they were concerned that more than two weeks after the signing of the MoU, and despite 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 (Internally Displaced Persons), the international community holds Zimbabwean ministers and officials responsible, said the donor countries.

Aid agencies, including the U.N.’s World Food Programme (WFP) – the main food aid agency that has also been banned from operating in Zimbabwe ostensibly because they were using food to campaign for the MDC – say the hungry are stretched to the limit and some are already being forced to seek out roots and leaves to eat.

Government has reacted with introducing the BACOSSI (Basic Commodities Supply Side Intervention) facility, a scheme where villagers are given food hampers for a song. But the scheme is only benefiting card-carrying Zanu-PF members.

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