Zimbabwe’s Suspension of Aid Work Before Presidential Elections Endangers People Living With HIV/AIDS, Group Says
The Zimbabwean government's order requiring all nongovernmental organizations to suspend aid work before the country's presidential elections on June 27 will particularly endanger people living with HIV/AIDS, Zimbabwe's National Association of Nongovernmental Organizations said Sunday, AFP/Google.com reports.
The government last week suspended all field work after accusing NGOs of siding with opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change ahead of the election. Tsvangirai defeated President Robert Mugabe in the first round of the election, according to AFP/Google.com (AFP/Google.com, 6/8). Zimbabwe's Social Welfare Minister Nicholas Goche on Thursday said the government ordered NGOs to suspend their work because they were violating the terms of their agreement with the government. NANGO after an emergency meeting Friday called on the government to name any groups it alleged were in breach of regulations and specify allegations against them, the AP/International Herald Tribune reports. The group in a statement said, "One cruel direct impact of the ban will be that people living with HIV/AIDS will increasingly die, since many NGOs provide assistance in the form of home-based care and antiretroviral medication" (AP/International Herald Tribune, 6/7).
According to the country's National AIDS Council, an estimated 3,000 people die weekly of AIDS-related illnesses. In addition to the concerns for people living with the disease, some NGOs are concerned about food security and the distribution of other health care-related services, AFP/Google.com reports (AFP/Google.com, 6/8).
U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe James McGee said the government is trying to become the sole distributor of food to help Mugabe win the election. McGee added that the U.S. Embassy in Zimbabwe has evidence that the government is supplying food primarily to supporters of Mugabe and is only offering food to opposition members if they turn in identification that allows them to vote.
United Kingdom International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander said that the decision to restrict the work of humanitarian groups is "indefensible" and that it shows "the lengths to which Mugabe will go to cling to power." He added that for "Mugabe to use the threat of hunger as a political weapon shows a callous contempt for human life." Alexander noted that for the "sake of millions of the poorest and most vulnerable people in Zimbabwe, aid must be allowed to get through." Carolyn Norris, deputy director of the Africa division of Human Rights Watch, said the government's order is not surprising. "This is part of a campaign," Norris said, adding, "There has been extreme campaign of violence and torture for people who voted for" the Movement for Democratic Change." She added, "This is to intimidate and spread fear before the elections in three weeks' time."
According to UNICEF, the decision to suspend aid operations will affect more than 185,000 children. "To see [children's] situation further deteriorate through stopping aid workers from delivering relief to those in need is unacceptable," UNICEF said in a statement. Kenneth Walker, communications director for CARE International in Africa, said, "All of the NGOs together provide some very basic services to several million Zimbabweans." He added, "Nobody is going to starve to death tomorrow," but "obviously the longer the suspension remains, the more dire the circumstances become." According to the United Nations, the suspension of CARE's activities alone affects half a million Zimbabweans (AP/International Herald Tribune, 6/7).