NGO ban puts older people at risk of starvation in Zimbabwe

Severe food shortages and the continuing ban on non-governmental organisation's (NGO) activities are placing hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people in Zimbabwe at critical risk of starvation.

A combination of hyperinflation, rising food prices and the failure of the summer harvest has left an estimated 2-4 million Zimbabweans dependent on humanitarian food aid.

Older people, children and the disabled are particularly vulnerable. However, a blanket ban on NGO field activities introduced on 4 June means humanitarian agencies, including HelpAge International's partner in Zimbabwe, are unable to reach them with aid.

Food distribution programme suspended

Our partner organisation is the only humanitarian agency in the country focusing on the needs of older people. It runs a food distribution programme on behalf of the World Food Programme, reaching over 7,500 people in 125 care institutions. These include privately-run orphanages, disability centres and older people's homes.

As a result of the NGO ban this programme was unable to operate throughout June, leaving these vulnerable groups at great risk of starvation. Most of the homes taking part in the programme do not have any other sources of income with which to support their residents.

Uncertain future

Most of the residents at a care home for older people on the outskirts of Harare have no family and nowhere else to go.

Speaking before the NGO suspension, one resident, Maria, said: 'Here I have been able to get food, a safe home, clothing, bed linen and blankets. I couldn't have got these things by myself. If I weren't here, I would be dead by now.'

Without the institutional feeding programme run by HelpAge International's partner organisation, the future for residents like Maria is uncertain.

Alex Bush, Assistant Director of Programmes at HelpAge International, says:

"This situation is incredibly serious. Vulnerable groups who are supported by food distributions, such as older people and the disabled, have no other means of survival."