On the opening day of the G8 Summit in Japan, Zimbabwean church workers at the forefront of aid efforts in the country issued an impassioned call to world leaders for decisive action to stop the violence in the country.
Seven African heads of state, including the leaders of South Africa, Tanzaniaand Ethiopia, will today join the 8 leading industrialised nations for discussions to tackle poverty in Africa.
Speaking from Zimbabwe, a spokesman for the Zimbabwe Christian Alliance (ZCA), a partner of British aid agency Tearfund, said, 'We call on the G8 leaders to leave no stone unturned in their efforts to address the double disaster of the political and humanitarian crises in the country.
'Our people are suffering terribly, but the ongoing violence is preventing us from reaching those who are in desperate need.'
Economists estimate Zimbabwe's inflation to be running at over 9 million per cent, with food in very short supply.
The ZCA spokesperson expressed deep concern at talk of forming a Government of National Unity in the country at last week's African Union Summit. He said, 'A Government of National Unity dismisses the will of the people. They want change, as demonstrated in the March election. We need a government that will put the needs of our people first.
'Our hope is that the G8 and African leaders will urgently appoint a team of mediators to facilitate a transitional Government, to pave the way to free and fair elections. Anything less will only serve to legitimise the Mugabe regime,' he said.
The United Nations estimates that 5 million people - approximately half the population of Zimbabwe- will require food aid over the next 9 months. However, many aid agencies have been ordered to cease their operations by the Government.
Commenting on the situation from Japan, Peter Grant, the International Director of Tearfund, said that, 'Further sanctions being discussed at the UN will be too little, too late. They will not be enough to resolve this urgent crisis. We strongly support our Zimbabwean partners' call for a transitional government.'
Other Tearfund church partners in Zimbabweare being severely hampered in their efforts to reach 35,000 AIDS orphans with life-saving food supplies. Workers trying to deliver aid have been intimidated and safety concerns have led them to closing rural offices.
Ongoing violence is exacerbating the crisis, driving people from their homes in search of safety. Tearfund's partners have had to suspend long-term aid operations, to provide shelter for 800 people who have fled the violence. A steady stream of new arrivals continues.
Also, sharp rises in food prices and riots in several countries will bring into sharp focus discussions in Japanabout the global food crisis between the G8 and African leaders. Just last month, the UN warned that 4.6 million people face shortages in Ethiopia.
Mesfin Shuge, Assistant Director of Food Security for the KaleHeywetChurchin Ethiopia, a Tearfund partner, said, 'The change in our climate means that the rains do not come when they should. So there is very little food to eat. Now the world food crisis means that the price of wheat flour and maize has quadrupled in the last few months alone, so the very poorest are simply unable to afford it.
'Recently, I met 30 people in my church who hadn't eaten for three days. We collected money from the congregation and were able to help them. This is not an isolated case and this situation cannot go on. We need help to do more.'
Tearfund is urging the G8 leaders both to take action to address the current food crisis and to tackle the underlying causes, especially climate change.
For interviews in Japan, Londonor Zimbabweplease contact:
JAPAN: Abby Kingon 00 81 (0) 80 2910
LONDON: Rebecca Tayloron 020 8943 7986 or 07949 181414