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Aid Organizations Fear for Zimbabwe's Poor

Aid organizations have expressed concern that the food distribution ban by the Zimbabwe government has put many of the four million Zimbabweans who are dependent on food aid at the risk of starvation. Tendai Maphosa spoke to some of them and filed this report from London.

The aid ban announced in a letter by Nicholas Goche, the Zimbabwean Minister of Public Service, Labor and Social Welfare, stops all field operations by aid organizations.

This follows the suspension of activities by the aid group CARE earlier this week. CARE International spokesman Kenneth Walker said the ban goes beyond just food aid. He told VOA that CARE provides half a million Zimbabweans with support in a variety of ways.

"They range from support for orphans and the vulnerable children to home-based care for the chronically ill mainly AIDS and HIV; provision of facilities for clean water and sanitation, agricultural programs micro loans for small business, a wide variety of those programs," he said.

In addition to the half a million, he added, CARE was planning to resume food handouts to 100,000 Zimbabweans this month. Up to March, Walker said, one million Zimbabweans depended on food handouts from CARE. Due to the drought-induced poor harvest, the organization was to resume food aid to 100,000 Zimbabweans this month.

That plan is now on hold after the government order. The authorities accused CARE of campaigning for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change ahead of the June 27 presidential runoff poll, a charge Walker denies. The government is still to answer his organization's request for evidence of its alleged political activities.

Christian Aid, another non-governmental aid group, also expressed fears for Zimbabwe's under-privileged who have become increasingly dependent on aid as the country's economy teeters on the edge. Judith Melby, a spokeswoman for the organization, says even if the indefinite ban is lifted after the election it may take a while to get all the programs back on track.

"It's very unfortunate because there is a delivery arrangement system, there are lots of things in place and when you have to stop it may be difficult to resume very quickly if one is allowed to resume deliveries," she said.

European Union Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Louis Michel has also joined calls for the Zimbabwean government to reverse its ban. In a statement Friday, Michel called on the government to immediately lift its pre-election ban on activities by non-governmental aid organizations. He said he was deeply distressed to think that hundreds of thousands of people who depend on aid from the European Commission and others for their very survival now face an even more uncertain future.