Food rots as Zim aid ban continues

Aid agencies in Zimbabwe remain barred from reaching millions of starving Zimbabweans, despite two separate agreements in the inter-party talks on the lifting of the aid ban.

The Memorandum of Understanding signed between Zanu-PF and the Movement for Democratic Change last month called for the lifting of all restrictions on the work of aid groups. A subsequent joint statement condemning violence also called for humanitarian assistance to be allowed into the country and for aid to reach thousands of victims of political violence.

However, Robert Mugabe’s government has still not lifted the ban it imposed before the June 27 presidential run-off election, based on claims that NGOs were using food aid to campaign for the opposition.

In an Orwellian twist the ban was announced by “Welfare Minister” Nicholas Goche, one of Zanu-PF’s negotiators in the talks. A partial lifting of the ban was announced later, for groups providing assistance to HIV/Aids sufferers.

NGOs say they have been asked to reapply for authority to operate, delaying urgently needed aid. Food aid is rotting in storage facilities, said Fambai Ngirande, a spokesperson for NGO coalition Nango.

The head of a major international aid agency, declining to be named, said on Tuesday “we are also worried about the security of our field staff”, even if the ban is lifted immediately.

Some aid work continues, the official said, but aid is reaching only 280 000 of an estimated two million people who need food assistance.

The Zimbabwe Crop and Food Security Assessment report says the number of people in need could rise to five million by January.

Charles Abani, Oxfam’s regional director, said last week: “We know that there is a growing humanitarian crisis and we are prepared to support efforts to address this crisis, but because of the continued ban, we have had to put all our operations on hold. There is a very real need to start supporting farmers with agricultural inputs and seeds that are in short supply for the next planting season.”

Reports from rural Zimbabwe show the dire need for food aid.

In rural areas of Mashonaland East and Manicaland maize supplies have dried up. Households that previously produced maize on their homestead plots have been hit by poor harvests, made worse by the lack of fertiliser, an international researcher who recently visited these provinces told the Mail & Guardian.

The researcher did not want to be named for fear of intimidation.

“Over the years communal area farmers have concentrated their farming efforts by cultivating only their homestead plots and using manure if they have any cattle. Like the large fields of the formerly white-owned farms that remain uncultivated, they leave their larger fields untouched because it is of no use to cultivate the sandy soils without any fertiliser,” he says.

Near Mutare people walk across the border and barter fruit for maize and other basic necessities. Besides the lack of maize there is no salt, sugar, soap and other basics to be bought anymore. Rural business centres where people used to buy such things have been closed for months.

In Harare food is becoming increasingly scarce and the urban economy turns to rands and dollars with prices on the rise.

A taxi ride this week cost five times more than it did two weeks ago, while the price of bread has risen from Z$40 to Z$200 during the same time. The most severe rise has been cereal that retailed for Z$140 a month ago and now sells for Z$1 500.

Minister of Information and Publicity Sikhanyiso Ndlovu told the M&G that NGOs are welcome in Zimbabwe as long as they refrain from dabbling in politics. “NGOs know they must re-register and do the work that they are supposed to do. They must come to us and explain what exactly their work is. We have nothing against the NGOs, but they were campaigning for the opposition during the election and were giving food only to opposition supporters.”

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