Johannesburg — The implementation of a food distribution scheme for 100,000 people has stalled after the Zimbabwean government suspended CARE International's operations for alleged "political activity".
CARE works to alleviate poverty and promote community health, with a particular focus on empowering women, and is one of the largest non-governmental organisations (NGOs) operating in Zimbabwe. On 28 May it was ordered to suspend its operations, pending a government investigation into its activities.
In a statement CARE said it was "committed to providing independent, impartial, apolitical relief and development assistance on the basis of need, to improve sustainable livelihoods for vulnerable populations, according to the Code of Conduct for Non-Governmental Organisations and to CARE International's Code of Ethics."
The suspension of CARE's operations would immediately affect about 500,000 Zimbabwean beneficiaries of projects such as water and sanitation, micro-credit, home-based care for the chronically ill, most of whom are infected with HIV, and support for orphans and vulnerable children.
CARE's Africa Communications Manager, Kenneth Walker, told IRIN that the feeding scheme for 100,000 people had been scheduled for implementation in June 2008, after the government said Zimbabwe's anticipated maize harvest would be poor - about one million tonnes shy of the national requirement. "I have no idea where they [people earmarked for food assistance] might get food from now," Walker said.
In 2007/08 international donor agencies provided food aid to 4.1 million people, more than a third of the population. The country's acute food shortages, compounded by government's recent admission that only 13 percent of the planned 2008 winter wheat crop had been planted, mean more people are expected to require food assistance earlier in 2008 than the previous year.
During the "lean period" between October 2007 and the March 2008 harvest, CARE was responsible for food aid to nearly one million Zimbabweans, or about a quarter of those requiring assistance.
CARE, which has channelled more than $US100 million in development assistance and relief since starting operations in 1992, said it had requested, "but to date has not yet received, the details of any allegations, including names, dates and locations ... [and] has pledged to cooperate with the government in resolving the situation so that humanitarian operations may be resumed as soon as possible."
About 300 Zimbabweans employed by CARE have been told to "remain at home pending further notice from the government".
NGOs agents of Western powers
Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe told the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) summit in Rome, Italy, on 3 June that NGOs were being used to undermine his ZANU-PF government.
Funds are being channelled through non-governmental organisations to opposition political parties, which are a creation of the West. These Western-funded NGOs also use food as a political weapon with which to campaign against government, especially in the rural areas
"Funds are being channelled through non-governmental organisations to opposition political parties, which are a creation of the West," Mugabe said. "These Western-funded NGOs also use food as a political weapon with which to campaign against government, especially in the rural areas."
According to a report by the US-based New York Times newspaper, representatives of aid groups were summoned by government officials in four districts of Zimbabwe and told to stop operations until after the run-off presidential vote between on 27 June, when Mugabe will stand against Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
Zimbabwe Social Welfare Minister Nicholas Goche told ZimOnline, an internet-based news service, that "several other non-governmental organisations ... will be asked to cease their operations while we investigate them."
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, said after addressing the FAO summit in Rome that if reports that NGOs had been instructed to suspend their activities were correct, "this would be an unconscionable act."
"To deprive people of food because of an election would be an extraordinary perversion of democracy, and a serious breach of international human rights law," she said.
There have been widespread reports of violence since the elections for local, parliamentary and presidential candidates were held on 29 March, when ZANU-PF lost control of parliament for the first time since the country won its independence from Britain in 1980.
Bumper maize order
At a presidential election rally on 29 May at Shamva, in northeastern Zimbabwe, Mugabe reportedly told the audience that 600,000 tons of maize had been purchased from neighbouring South Africa to alleviate the food shortages.
At current prices of about R1,800 (US$231) per metric tonne (mt) for white maize, a 600,000mt white maize order would cost Zimbabwe about US$139 million, before transport costs.
Zimbabwe's economy is in meltdown, with annual inflation estimated at about one million percent and acute shortages of foreign currency, food, fuel, electricity and basic commodities.
South Africa is expecting the harvest of white and yellow maize to exceed 11 million tonnes in 2008, according to traders.