14 August 2008Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has urged Zimbabwe to immediately lift the restrictions it has imposed on aid agencies since June, warning that not doing so could worsen the already dire humanitarian situation in the southern African nation. “I call on the Government of Zimbabwe to fully respect humanitarian principles and the impartiality and neutrality of voluntary and non-governmental organizations, allowing them to operate freely and with unrestricted access to those in need,” Mr. Ban said in a statement issued today. The Secretary-General said he remains deeply concerned about the humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe where, despite requests made by the UN Country Team and other humanitarian partners, operations of voluntary and non-governmental organizations remain restricted. He stressed that these groups have a vital role in the delivery of humanitarian aid, including much needed food assistance.Due to the inability of these agencies to operate, only 280,000 people of the 1.5 million in need of food assistance are being reached with distributions.“This ban must be lifted immediately so that aid organizations can carry out their relief work and avert a catastrophic humanitarian crisis,” Mr. Ban stated. Prior to the imposition of the ban, many Zimbabweans were already suffering from food shortages and rampant inflation, a situation made worse by the violence that plagued the country ahead of the June presidential run-off election.