MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai yesterday wrote to government appealing for resumption of humanitarian operations saying the situation in the country was now critical.
Tsvangiraiâ€™s letter to Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare minister Nicholas Goche came amid reports that the ministry had recommended to cabinet the lifting of a ban on the operations of humanitarian organisations.
The opposition leader told Goche that in line with the memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed between Zanu PF and the two MDC formations on July 21 and a joint statement on August 6 condemning political violence, the government should have revoked the ban on the operations of humanitarian organisations effected on June 12.
“The effect of the MoU and the joint statement signed by all parties was obviously understood to mean your letter banning NGOs from providing food aid and associated relief was immediately revoked,” Tsvangirai wrote.
He said NGOs were still unable to distribute food in the country, as they believed that in the absence of a letter countermanding Gocheâ€™s instruction, the ban on their activities still stands.
“The situation in the country is now critical. We are receiving reports of rampant starvation throughout the country. If the situation continues unaddressed, death will occur,” Tsvangirai said.
“In the circumstances, I appeal to you to immediately address a letter to all NGOs unequivocally countermanding your instruction, to allow urgently needed humanitarian work to be carried out in the country. Such a letter is obviously within the spirit of the MoU, our joint statement and indeed in the interest of every Zimbabwean.”
In the MoU, the parties agreed that “in the interim, they will work together to ensure the safety of any displaced persons and their safe return home and that humanitarian and social welfare organisations are enabled to render such assistance as might be required”.
Meanwhile, Plan International yesterday said it had been informed that Gocheâ€™s ministry has recommended to cabinet the lifting of the suspension.
Deepali Khanna, Plan International regional director, in a written response to questions from the Zimbabwe Independent, yesterday said the lifting of the ban was a result of lobbying government by the humanitarian organisations and the United Nations country team.
Khanna said: “Through the National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, we have been engaging the government and we understand that the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare, which has an oversight on the activities of NGOs operating in Zimbabwe, has recommended to cabinet to lift the suspension. We hope that the suspension of NGO field operations will be lifted soon.”
Government suspended all field operations by NGOs in the countdown to the June 27 presidential run-off election after accusing the humanitarian aid groups of campaigning for Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC in March 29 harmonised elections.
As a result of the ban, millions of people who used to benefit from humanitarian aid have been left exposed to starvation and diseases.
“Our field operations remain suspended in line with a government directive. We have not been able to offer assistance to about 50 000 children in the eight districts that we operate in,” Khanna said. “We are keen to resume our operations and to continue complementing government efforts aimed at ensuring that children in Zimbabwe enjoy unencumbered access to education, health, food and clean water.”
Last week, civil society took a swipe at Sadc for its failure to pressurise President Robert Mugabe to lift the ban on aid distribution.
“This latest instance of the historic failure by the Sadc to uphold and enforce compliance with its stated commitments to democracy, rule of law and human rights has contributed to the rapid deterioration of humanitarian and human rights conditions in Zimbabwe â€” thus condemning millions of Zimbabweans to a spiraling cycle of poverty,” said civil society in a statement.
The civil society groups appealed to Sadc to help avert a full-fledged humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe by compelling Zanu PF and the two MDC factions to make good their commitment to facilitate the resumption of humanitarian operations by NGOs as a matter of urgency.
The parties signed a memorandum of understanding on July 21 that, among other things, said the ban on operations of humanitarian organisations should be lifted.
International food institutions â€” the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) â€” this week said Zimbabwe faces the highest and most severe levels of food insecurity in the region.
The organisations said this was a result of adverse crop growing conditions in the 2007/08 agricultural season and the countryâ€™s continuing economic decline.
A joint FAO/WFP crop and food supply assessment mission in May estimated that 2 million people would be food insecure from July through to September 2008 in both urban and rural areas and this number is expected to peak at about 5,1 million from January to March 2009.
By Lucia Makamure