New Cholera Outbreak 'Almost Inevitable' in Zimbabwe

by VR Sreeraman on Aug 20 2009 5:15 PM

Cholera will almost certainly hit Zimbabwe again, after 4,200 people died over the last year, the United Nations warned Wednesday, saying less than half the humanitarian aid needed has been raised.

The United Nations in June asked donors for 718 million dollars to fight the disease and stave off hunger, but officials told reporters that less than half that amount has been given.

Zimbabwe's health ministry last month declared an end to the deadly cholera epidemic that swept the country over the past year, killing more than 4,200 people and infecting nearly 100,000 people.

The UN Children's Fund said Wednesday that the nation's crumbling infrastructure made another outbreak almost inevitable, especially when the rainy season begins in November.

"Another cholera outbreak in the country is almost inevitable. We must work together with the government to prevent another outbreak which we see coming," said Peter Salama, the UNICEF chief in Zimbabwe.

"There is a deterioration of infrastructure in the country and Zimbabwe has not made progress in improving this infrastructure. This will expose people to another cholera outbreak again."

A cholera epidemic erupted last August as post-election violence swept Zimbabwe, with worsening public infrastructure and hospital closures adding to chronically overburdened sewer systems and water shortages.

The diarrhoeal disease thrives in places without proper sanitation. While deadly, the disease is easily preventable with clean water and proper sewage.

Zimbabwe's power-sharing government, formed in February, is trying to raise more than eight billion dollars over three years to revive public services, including repairs to sewage lines that leak through populous neighbourhoods.

More than two billion dollars (1.4 billion euros) has been promised so far, but mostly in loans from China and Africa meant to revive local industry.

Western donors are still reluctant to offer direct support to the government, offering humanitarian aid instead while demanding that President Robert Mugabe undertake greater reforms to respect human rights and curb political attacks.

But humanitarian aid is lagging behind the needs, according to the UN humanitarian coordinator in Zimbabwe, Augustino Zacarias.

"Although Zimbabwe is not facing armed conflict, humanitarian threats such as food shortages and the outbreak of diseases such as cholera pose a significant challenge," he said.

"Sadly, only 44 percent of Zimbabwe's appeal of 718 million had been raised by the end of July."

Six million people have little or no access to safe water and sanitation, the main driver of the cholera outbreak, the United Nations says.

An estimated 2.8 million Zimbabweans need food aid, while 1.5 million children require support to access education. The nation's problems are worsened by the high incidence of HIV, which infects 15.6 percent of adults.

Zimbabwe has suffered chronic food shortages since Mugabe began chaotic land reforms nine years ago, but the crisis worsened dramatically as cholera swept the nation.