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Zimbabwe Children Left Hungry After Foreign Food Aid Personnel Forced to Leave


Tens of thousands of hungry Zimbabwe children are without the only daily meal they could count on because President Robert Mugabe's government has refused to allow a Swiss non-governmental organization to continue its feeding program. Many humanitarian relief groups report their foreign workers are struggling to renew temporary employment permits.

The Swiss humanitarian relief organization, Medair, was feeding up to 90,000 primary school children in two of Zimbabwe's poorest and most remote rural districts. Its international staff was forced to leave the country two weeks ago, after the Department of Home Affairs refused to renew their work permits.

It also refused the group registration as a non-govermental organization.

Medair was described Tuesday by the U.N. World Food Program as "efficient and reliable" and termed by the WFP as "one of its best implementing partners."

Medair provided a daily meal of enriched porridge at 150 schools in two districts in dry parts of Zimbabwe. According to the WFP, it was the only meal of the day for many children.

Spokesman for Medair, Mark Screeton, said in a statement from the organization's head office in Geneva that the international workers are unable to continue distributing food, which is now deteriorating in warehouses. He said Medair is frustrated, knowing the increasing food insecurity facing primary school children and their families.

A senior WFP employee in Zimbabwe, who did not want to be identified, says it would be difficult to find another implementing partner to replace Medair.

Last month the U.S. Agency for International Development-funded Famine Early Warning System Network, known as FEWSNET, predicted that more than two million rural households will need food aid by year's end. It also said food in urban areas is now too expensive for the majority of people, most of whom are unemployed.

The WFP says it is feeding 360,000 children in Zimbabwe for the next week, until the school year ends.

Recently the government allowed the WFP to begin to distribute 25,000 tons of food in storage that was left over from its last program.

President Robert Mugabe told donor nations earlier this year that they should stop funding food imports as Zimbabwe has grown enough to support itself.

Many foreign humanitarian organizations say they applied in good time for renewal of their staffs' work permits. They say they do not know why so many have been delayed to the point that the workers will shortly find themselves illegally in Zimbabwe.

Some of those affected have been in Zimbabwe continuously since independence in 1980. Others have links with the ruling ZANU-PF from when it was fighting the war to end minority white rule.

Government officials were not available for comment.

A new law to ban foreign funded non-governmental organizations involved in human rights and governance is expected to win final approval by parliament on December 9.

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