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Morris tells Mugabe to relax conditions for NGOs

Augustine Mukaro

UNITED Nations special envoy James Morris on Monday urged President Robert Mugabe to ensure food security and relax the conditions under which NGOs work

in the country.

NGOs told Morris that there was a lot of uncertainty over legislation governing their operations and that some of them could not make long-term plans as they were still battling to get registered.

“It is important for steps to be taken to safeguard the operating environment for humanitarian agencies,” the NGOs said.

“In principle there is no food aid in Zimbabwe, rather there is targeted feeding of vulnerable groups. However, the reality is that the majority of the population is fast becoming vulnerable and in need of humanitarian support,” they said.

“It’s difficult to have focused programmes in a context in which the entire system is on the verge of collapse,” the NGOs said. “There is need to make recourse to multi-sectoral approaches and to strengthen coordination of interventions and collaboration between humanitarian agencies and the state.”

Morris, who steps down as head of the World Food Programme (WFP) in January, is in the Southern African region to assess the food situation.

Last year, Mugabe blocked Morris, who was on a similar trip, from visiting Zimbabwe, claiming he was busy. Mugabe said the country was expecting a bumper harvest of a record 2,4 million tonnes of the staple maize.

But it later emerged that government was worried Morris would meet with opposition parties and civil society groups who would give a different account of the food situation.

Morris visited South Africa and Zambia before coming to Zimbabwe. He is also expected to visit Malawi.

“President Mugabe and I had a very cordial conversation,” Morris told reporters after the meeting in Harare. “We talked about issues of food security and how important that is to a country’s ability to sustain itself and to be economically strong.”

Morris is the third most senior UN envoy to visit Zimbabwe after the controversial Operation Murambatsvina last year, which left about 700 000 people homeless.

Mugabe defended the campaign, which he said was aimed at rooting out crime, and branded UN Humanitarian and Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland a “hypocrite and a liar” for criticising what the official described as a military-style blitz with “no regard for human suffering”.

Morris, whose own agency has had strained relations with Mugabe’s government, said UN agencies will continue to work with Zimbabwe.

“I affirmed the commitment of UN agencies to be partners with Zimbabwe, to be as helpful as we can in matters related to food security and matters related to the HIV pandemic across the region,” he said.

Mugabe has in the past accused aid groups of using food to turn the people against his government.

Morris is on his final tour of Southern Africa, hoping to highlight the region’s twin humanitarian crises of regular food shortages and the world’s worst HIV/Aids pandemic.

Zimbabwe is particularly hard hit, with crippling shortages of food, fuel, foreign currency and a surging unemployment rate.

Critics say Mugabe’s seizure of white-owned farms to give to blacks has gutted the key agricultural sector and accelerated the crisis.

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