UN chief alarmed at desperate humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe, urges help despite politics

He also called on Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai to quickly resolve their impasse over power-sharing during a new round of talks to be held in South Africa, U.N. spokeswoman Michele Montas said.

"The people of Zimbabwe cannot afford another failure by their political leadership to reach a fair and workable agreement that would allow Zimbabwe to tackle the formidable challenges ahead," Montas said.

U.N. officials say more than 5 million people face imminent starvation in Zimbabwe and cholera is spreading in the country and the region.

The U.N. World Food Program appealed in October for $140 million to help 4 million Zimbabweans. But the agency said earlier this month that international donors had not responded, forcing it to start rationing cereal and beans. It warned that food aid will run out by January unless it gets new funds.

"The secretary-general urges all parties to support and provide humanitarian assistance leaving political considerations aside," Montas said.

She said Ban strongly supports the humanitarian initiative of The Elders, a group formed by former South African President Nelson Mandela to help foster peace. She Ban regretted Zimbabwe’s government decided "not to cooperate with their timely, well-intended effort to assist the people of Zimbabwe."

Three of the group’s members — former President Jimmy Carter, former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Mandela’s wife, child advocate Graca Machel — were blocked by Zimbabwean authorities from making a humanitarian visit to the country this weekend.