Zimbabwe has lifted the ban on some non-governmental organisations (NGOs), but aid agencies have been cautious in their response.
A notice from the social welfare ministry on 29 August announced the lifting of the ban, imposed ahead of the second round of voting in the presidential ballot on 27 June for alleged political bias against the government.
“Clearly, we welcome the lifting of the ban. We hope to resume work with our NGO partners in scaling up our operations,” said Richard Lee, regional spokesman for the World Food Programme (WFP).
WFP was planning to reach 1.7 million vulnerable people in September. “It seems unlikely that we will be able to reach out to all of them, because the lifting of the ban was announced today, and our partners still have to go out into the communities to identify and register the most vulnerable.”
The food aid agency hopes to reach at least two million people by the end of 2008.
The ban affected food distribution to two million Zimbabweans in urgent need, said Oxfam, the UK-based aid agency, whose activities were also curtailed. “Plans to deliver seeds and livestock for the next agricultural season were also put on hold,” the agency said in a statement.
Oxfam’s regional director, Charles Abani, said: “Without the immediate resumption of food aid across the country, widespread hunger and worsening malnutrition will be unavoidable; water and sanitation services are also in dire need of support.”
”Without the immediate resumption of food aid across the country, widespread hunger and worsening malnutrition will be unavoidable; water and sanitation services are also in dire need of support”
Cephas Zinhumwe, chief executive officer of the National Association of Non-governmental Organisations (NANGO), the national NGO umbrella body, was more cautious in his reaction. “The lift characteristically excludes organisations operating in areas such as transitional justice, human rights and governance and democracy,” he noted.
Zimbabwe’s public service ministry has called a meeting with aid agencies and local NGOs on 1 September “to clarify operation modalities”.
“We hope that these ‘modalities’ will not involve restrictions on aid agencies or local civil society,” Oxfam’s Abani said. “It is vital that non-governmental actors are given the space to deliver on their mandates of support to poor and vulnerable Zimbabweans.”
Food insecurity is not limited to rural areas, but is now also a real threat to poor urban families as the country grapples with food and currency shortages brought on by an official inflation rate of more than 11 million percent.
Oxfam said it planned to assist more than 500,000 people with food aid in Midlands Province in central Zimbabwe, and Masvingo Province in the southeast, as well as in various urban centres across the country, including the capital, Harare, and the second city, Bulawayo.
A crop assessment forecast by a joint Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) and WFP mission, released in June 2008, projected that about 5.1 million Zimbabweans would suffer food insecurity by early 2009.
“The Mission estimates that 2.04 million people in rural and urban areas will be food insecure between July and September 2008, rising to 3.8 million people between October, and peaking to about 5.1 million at the height of the hungry season between January and March 2009,” said the FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission to Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe’s population is estimated at about 12 million people, but this does not take into account the more than three million people thought to have left the country since 2000 as a result of mounting economic and political instability.
According to the government notice, lifting the ban will allow the resumption of operations by NGOs involved in humanitarian and food assistance; relief, recovery and development; childcare and protection and rights of people with disabilities; HIV/AIDS treatment, care, and other support services.