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100s Of 1000s Zimbabwe Kids At Risk After Aid Ban

Hundreds of thousands Zimbabwean children at risk after aid ban - UNICEF

13 June 2008 - The health of hundreds of thousands of Zimbabwean children is in jeopardy because of last week's decision by the country's authorities to ban non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from distributing aid, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) warned today.

"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," UNICEF spokesperson James Elder said.

UNICEF had been providing support to more than 185,000 orphans in the impoverished Southern African country but it has suspended its programmes in the wake of the Government decision on 5 June to ban aid distribution.

Many Zimbabweans were already suffering from food shortages and rampant inflation and the situation has been exacerbated by the violence plaguing the country ahead of the presidential run-off election between incumbent Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, which is scheduled for 27 June.

"Many of those children are now seeing horrendous levels of violence that are sweeping through rural areas," Mr. Elder said. "This is something that UNICEF has repeatedly made its objection to.

"We've got several weeks now of great uncertainty. It's winter - it's a time that children can ill-afford to be held hostage to any type of politicking."

UNICEF's warning echoes that of UN Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes, who briefed the Security Council yesterday "on what is a very worrying and very serious and deteriorating humanitarian in Zimbabwe."

Estimating that up to 4 million people - or about a third of the national population - are now in need of aid, Mr. Holmes urged Zimbabwe to rescind its decision to suspend the NGO aid distribution.

"I hope it will prove to be temporary," he told reporters after the briefing. "There are some indications from the Government of Zimbabwe that it will be temporary and that they might even relax it in some ways, but we need to see that translated into practice. If it went on longer than the immediate pre-electoral run-off period, the consequences could be very serious indeed."

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, speaking to journalists in London after a meeting there with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, stressed the need to end the violence engulfing Zimbabwe.

"When I had a meeting with President [Robert] Mugabe last week in Rome, I emphasized the importance of ensuring that there would be no further violence, and that this forthcoming presidential run-off election should be held in a most transparent and fair and convincing and credible way, and I urged him to take all necessary measures to ensure that," Mr. Ban said.

ENDS

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