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Zimbabwe Government Lifts Food Aid Ban

Welfare Minister Nicholas Goche has lifted the ban on humanitarian agencies delivering food aid as hunger grips much of Zimbabwe. Peta Thornycroft reports the ban was slapped on humanitarian agencies delivering food on June 4.

Save the Children U.K. Country Director Rachel Pounds says she is "hugely relieved" to be able to get back to working directly with children and their families,

She said the agency's 120 member team has been unable to operate properly for five months. She says it is providing food aid in a year when the annual maize crop was the smallest ever.

Other agencies such as Care International, one of the largest feeding agencies has also returned to work.

Normally aid agencies need to put emergency feeding programs together in November, but this year many people were hungry in July. Estimates say up to 5.1 million people or nearly half the population will need food aid before the harvest next April.

Pounds said thousands of children have been struggling to survive in extremely difficult conditions. She says it is impossible to know how bad the situation is until the team gets into the field, but she says local workers report increased rates of malnutrition among children.

Pounds says another problem is many thousands of children have quit school to look for food for their families.

Zimbabwe has the highest number of orphans per capita in the world, with one-in-10 children dying before their fifth birthday.

Save the Children U.K. said chronic shortages of food and other basic commodities have worsened due to the political and economic turmoil in Zimbabwe, with many provinces now facing a food deficit for several months.

Welfare Minister Goche banned humanitarian agencies from conducting field work, because he said they had supported the Movement for Democratic Change before the March 29 elections.

This was denied by non-governmental organizations. The ban was lifted as Morgan Tsvangirai's MDC and President Robert Mugabe's Zanu PF engaged with regional mediators in South Africa for another round of talks.

Tsvangirai's spokesmen said no progress was made during the weekend.

The humanitarian agency ban was a point for resolution in the Memorandum of Understanding signed by Zanu PF and MDC in July, prior to the now stalled negotiations.