Zimbabwe remains gripped by a humanitarian, economic and political crisis, Christian Aid reported yesterday. An estimated 5.5m people will need food aid between now and March 2004 and are entirely dependent on international humanitarian support. Christian Aid is beginning the next phase of its emergency response with help from the Department For International Development and European Union. The agency will be supporting the partner programmes of Christian Care and Lutheran Development Service. School feeding programmes form the bulk of their work. Christian Care will be feeding 30,147 primary children and 32,977 middle school children in Masvingo. It also has a general food distribution for 72,000 people in Gutu District. Lutheran Development Services works in Matebeleland South providing food for 15,635 primary children and 17,561 middle school children. The agency also supports the maintenance of school water points, school gardens, HIV/AIDS education and the distribution of seeds and fertiliser. Concern has been expressed that a new policy directive, issued by the Ministry of Public Services, Labour and Social Welfare in July, could lead to direct political intervention and direction of humanitarian aid. The UN coordinator in Harare has met with government officials and says he has received assurances from them, that in spite of the directive, the UN will be allowed to continue to implement food aid as previously. So far, there have been no reports of the new policy being implemented. Concern has also been expressed over the closure of the local monitoring offices of the UN relief operation. Apparently the correct procedure was not followed in establishing them. Christian Aid with its partners, Christian Care and Lutheran Development Services, along with other aid agencies and the UN World Food Programme (WFP) in Harare have all restated their commitment to helping the people of Zimbabwe. The aid agencies are signatories to the Code of Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and Non-Governmental Organisations in Disaster Relief. Point four of the code states 'Non-Governmental Humanitarian Agencies (NGHA) are agencies which act independently from governments. We therefore formulate our own policies and implementation strategies and do not seek to implement the policy of any government, except in so far as it coincides with our own independent policy.' The Code also calls on governments of disaster-affected countries to: 'recognise and respect the independent, humanitarian and impartial actions of NGHAs.' In a statement Christian Aid said: "If Christian Care or the Lutheran Development Services or Christian Aid experience political interference in the distribution of humanitarian food aid, we will contact the UN office in Harare, which has promised to take up such issues with the government of Zimbabwe. The UN has stated that if the autonomy of the aid agencies is not respected and the distribution of humanitarian aid is done on the basis of political affiliation, humanitarian programmes will be suspended."
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