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Zimbabwe Food Aid Ban May Hamper Future Distribution Efforts

With many people in Zimbabwe at the point of starvation, a government ban on field work by relief organizations is putting them at further risk. As Peta Thornycroft reports for VOA, even if the restrictions are lifted now, humanitarian groups say it would take until September for emergency relief efforts to begin.

In early June, ZANU-PF welfare minister, Nicholas Goche, banned all field work in Zimbabwe by international aid agencies, accusing them of political meddling by providing campaign support for the opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change in the March 29 elections.

Aid agencies deny they gave any support for the MDC, which won the parliamentary vote.

Devastating news for a country, where nearly four million people, or a third of the population, relies on food aid.

Now local food distribution agencies are warning that the Western donated food - some of it stored in the South African port of Durban for delivery to Zimbabwe - will have to be diverted to other countries if the ban is not lifted immediately.

A spokesman for one of the largest distributing agencies in Zimbabwe said Friday the ban is still firmly in place despite warnings from humanitarian agencies. He said that when the ban was imposed, many organizations had to dismantle their distribution networks.

As a result, he doubts the infrastructure could be restored for emergency feeding programs before September, even if the the ban was lifted immediately.

According to several key distribution agencies, emergency feeding programs are not usually necessary between April and October because of the summer harvest. But, the Famine Early Warning Systems Network recently issued an emergency statement saying Zimbabwe had its worst ever crops. According to FEWSNET between a third and half the population will need food aid before next year's harvest.

There is little food available in the shops here and even on the black market there is little of the staple food, corn meal, available.

People on the streets in Harare and money traders said there was almost no cash available Friday since the central bank chopped off 10 zeros from its currency on Wednesday.

In addition to food, the relief agencies provide clean water, medical care and other services. Of particular concern are people suffering from HIV/AIDS. Many are on treatment programs and are no longer getting their anti retrovirals drugs.