Zimbabwe is appealing for international aid after declaring a cholera epidemic which has so far claimed 565 lives a national emergency, the state-run Herald newspaper said Thursday.
"The government yesterday (Wednesday) declared the cholera outbreak ... and the malfunctioning of central hospitals as national emergencies and appealed to the donor community for assistance to alleviate the situation," it said.
"The emergency appeal will help us reduce the morbidity and mortality associated with the current socio-economic environment," Health Minister David Parirenyatwa told a meeting of aid groups, the newspaper reported.
He put the death toll so far at 563, after the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said Wednesday that the outbreak had claimed 565 lives, with 12,546 recorded cases.
Cholera is the latest challenge to hit poverty-wracked Zimbabwe, which is already struggling with political instability and the world's most severe case of hyperinflation.
Cholera is caused by food or water tainted with vibrio cholera bacteria, the World Health Organization says. With a short incubation period, it brings on diarrhoea that can fast lead to severe dehydration and death.
Parirenyatwa said that referral hospitals were in urgent need of drugs, food and equipment. Also needed are laboratory reagents, surgical sundries, renal and laundry equipment, X-ray films and boilers.
In addition, he said the health ministry needs 1.5 million dollars a month as incentives for health workers who have gone on strike in government hospitals in a pay dispute.
"So far, seven million has been made available with effect from January 1, 2009 and there is still a gap of 11 million dollars which we are requesting now," Parirenyatwa said.
The deputy minister of water and infrastructural development, Walter Mzembi, who also attended the meeting, said his ministry has water treatment chemicals enough to last the next 12 weeks.
"I am appealing for at least 40 million rand (3.1 million euros, 3.93 million dollars) to purchase chemicals for the next two months and the money is needed between now and Monday," he said, according to Herald.
Water was mostly restored in Harare on Wednesday after a crippling 48 hour water cut, Mzembi told AFP earlier.
Taps in Harare ran dry on Saturday after the state-run water company ran short of aluminium sulphate, used to purify water, forcing people to dig shallow wells and sparking a trade in water-selling.
Charities have warned that cholera has spread to neighbouring South Africa, where health authorities in the north say the Limpopo River, a major waterway and border with Zimbabwe, tested positive for cholera this week.
The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) announced emergency measures Tuesday to increase health services, provide nutritional supplements and widen access to safe water in Zimbabwe.
Its effort will include buying essential medicines for 70 percent of the Zimbabwe's population of 11 million, immunisation for 1.5 million children and emergency support and protection for 250,000 orphans and vulnerable children.