|Miriam (left), 16, heads a household of six siblings, including Rutendo (shown here) in Zimbabwe.|
HARARE, Zimbabwe, 12 June 2008 – Last week, the authorities here banned non-governmental organizations from distributing aid throughout the country. For many Zimbabweans already suffering from food shortages and rampant inflation, the lack of aid could prove disastrous.
“The situation in the last week has certainly got a lot worse for Zimbabwe’s children because so many hundreds of thousands of them are dependent on aid,” said UNICEF Zimbabwe spokesperson James Elder.
UNICEF has dozens of international and local NGO partners who help implement relief and development programmes; almost all have had to stop working under threats of violence after the edict by the government.
Support for orphans at risk
“It means that those hundreds of thousands of children are now simply not getting the help that they need,” said Mr. Elder.
Several million people in Zimbabwe lack adequate access to food, health care, education and proper water and sanitation. High mortality rates from AIDS have left the country with one of the largest per-capita populations of orphans in the world.
UNICEF provides support to more than 185,000 Zimbabwean orphans, but the programme has been suspended since the 5 June decision by the government to ban aid distribution.
|Orphaned at just 3 years of age after the death of his mother, Jealous, now 15, was shifted from household to household within his extended family.|
Weeks of uncertainty
To make matters worse, violence continues to plague the country in the led-up to a 27 June run-off election between incumbent President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.
“Many of those children are now seeing horrendous levels of violence that are sweeping through rural areas,” said Mr. Elder. “This is something that UNICEF has repeatedly made its objection to.
“We’ve got several weeks now of great uncertainty,” he added. “It’s winter – it’s a time that children can ill-afford to be held hostage to any type of politicking.”
11 June 2008: UNICEF Zimbabwe’s James Elder explains how the government ban on humanitarian aid is affecting children and families.