UN humanitarian chief concerned at restriction of relief effort in Zimbabwe

from UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Published on 04 Jun 2008
(New York, 4 June 2008): United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes today expressed grave concern at a decision by authorities in Zimbabwe to restrict efforts by humanitarian agencies to deliver relief aid to those in need in that country.

'This goes against fundamental humanitarian principles,' said Mr. Holmes. 'Humanitarian agencies must be allowed to reach freely those who are in need in Zimbabwe. Millions of Zimbabweans are unfortunately dependant on humanitarian aid in the present circumstances,' Mr. Holmes said.

'Humanitarian agencies are guided by the principles of neutrality and impartiality, their mandate being only to alleviate the suffering of people in distress,' Mr. Holmes added. 'I hope the Government of Zimbabwe will facilitate unrestricted access, as well as safety and security, for humanitarian aid workers,' he said.

NGOs in Zimbabwe have been facing increasing restrictions in the run up to the run-off presidential elections later this month. More recently, NGOs in different parts of the country have been ordered to suspend their operations, partially or totally. Aid programmes that have been affected include school feeding programmes and those for orphans and vulnerable children. According to UNICEF, those displaced by election-related violence include more than 10,000 children.

Non-governmental organisations are key implementing partners of UN agencies, and curtailing operations affects the implementation of UN programmes in Zimbabwe.

The restrictions are also coming at time when food security in Zimbabwe is deteriorating, leaving an increasing number of people vulnerable. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, poor rainfall and lack of seeds mean that this year's harvest will be worse than in 2007.

Aid operations in the country are intended to benefit over four million Zimbabweans, or over one-third of the population. In late 2007, 42 UN agencies and NGOs appealed for $317 million to provide urgently needed aid to the country in 2008. Halfway through 2008, the Appeal has been only 17% funded, and increased resources are urgently needed given the increasingly difficult humanitarian situation in the country.

For further information, please call: Stephanie Bunker, OCHA-New York, +1 917 367 5126, mobile +1 917 892 1679; John Nyaga, OCHA-NY, + 1 917 367 9262; Elisabeth Byrs, OCHA-Geneva, +41 22 917 2653, mobile, +41 79 473 4570. OCHA press releases are available at http://ochaonline.un.org or www.reliefweb.int

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