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UN Condemns Decision to Halt Aid in Zimbabwe

  • Lisa Schlein

The United Nations is lending its voice to widespread international condemnation of the decision by the Zimbabwean government of Robert Mugabe to suspend the delivery of aid by private agencies in the country. The United Nations says halting their work will hamper the UN's humanitarian operations as well. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

The United Nations warns President Robert Mugabe's decision to halt aid will have serious repercussions for the people of Zimbabwe. It says non-governmental agencies are key implementing partners and without their assistance, the United Nations will not be able to deliver the food, water and other essential relief to the desperate millions in Zimbabwe.

Spokeswoman for the U.N. Organization for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance, Elizabeth Byrs, tells VOA over one-third of the population - or more than four million people - are in need of assistance.

"According to the Food and Agricultural Organization, with poor rainfall and lack of seeds, it means that this year's harvest will be worse than in 2007. It is already of concern. So, if we cannot have our implementing partners on board, it means that these people will not get the appropriate assistance," said Byrs.

More than half of Zimbabwe's population lives on less than one dollar a day. More than 1.5 million people have HIV/AIDS, with more than 3,000 dying every week.

The United Nations warns more people will become malnourished and sick. Some may even die if they are forced to live on starvation rations.

The Zimbabwean authorities say they have halted aid because the agencies are supporting the opposition movement. The agencies deny this accusation. The United Nations says these restrictions go against fundamental humanitarian principles.

U.N. Human Rights spokesman, Rupert Colville, tells VOA the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, considers this action to be totally unconscionable.

"To deprive people of food because of an election is a complete perversion of democracy. How can you possibly deprive people with food and then ask for a democratic vote. And, not just food, but all the other aid that Zimbabweans need and are getting from international aid agencies. This is very important. So, to just postpone it for two or three weeks because an election is taking place simply is not acceptable," said Colville.

Colville says the government might be in violation of international human rights law, especially the international covenant on civil and political rights. He says humanitarian aid must not be politicized.

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