June 6, 2008 / 2:04 PM / 10 years ago

CARE warns millions at risk after Zimbabwe aid ban

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Millions of Zimbabweans dependent on food and other relief aid are at risk after the Zimbabwean government banned international aid work in the southern African country, CARE International said on Friday.

Zimbabwe indefinitely suspended all work by aid groups on Thursday, accusing some of campaigning for opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai who is bidding to end President Robert Mugabe’s 28-year rule in a presidential run-off on June 27.

CARE, one of the world’s biggest aid organizations Harare accused of political interference, denies the charge and says the Zimbabwean government has so far not provided details to back up its claims.

“You have a situation, a very dire economy in Zimbabwe ... inflation is more than 100,000 percent and just finding the next meal is an extremely major exercise for a great many people,” said Kenneth Walker, CARE’s Africa communications manager.

“So several million people without access to food aid, health services, education, clean water and sanitation facilities are at risk,” Walker said.

Walker said 500,000 Zimbabweans a month benefited from CARE services ranging from education, clean water, home-based care for the chronically ill — mainly those affected by HIV-AIDS — as well as micro credit to small businesses.

It was about to resume a food program for 100,000 people in the country before the government suspended its operations last Friday.

Zimbabwe is suffering over 165,000 inflation, 80 percent unemployment and chronic food shortages in the wake of the collapse of its once prosperous agricultural sector.

“The suspension of every single international aid agency in Zimbabwe will have a disastrous effect on several millions of people in Zimbabwe,” Walker said, adding the government had given no indication of how long the ban will last.

Zimbabwe’s former colonial power Britain condemned the suspension, saying it would affect four million people dependent on food aid.

“Obviously it’s a tragedy that a country that once could feed its people and export the excess is now dependent on food aid in this way and is taking steps to remove the access of its impoverished citizens to food aid,” said a spokesman for Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Walker said the United Nations, which condemned the ban, was coordinating a meeting next week in Zimbabwe with all non-governmental organizations and donors to assess the situation.

Editing by Jon Boyle

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