Zimbabwe appeals for donor help on cholera

HARARE – The embattled, usually cocky, anti-donor Zimbabwean regime has declared a cholera outbreak that has claimed more than 560 lives and its "malfunctioning" hospitals as national emergencies and urged donors to help, state media reported on Thursday.

State newspaper quoted Health Minister David Parirenyatwa as saying there was a critical shortage of resources in the health sector.

"Our central hospitals are literally not functioning. Our staff is demotivated and we need your support to ensure that they start coming to work and our health system is revived," he said.

Zimbabwe needed medicines and medical equipment, as well as food to feed patients and for child supplementary feeding programmes.

"The emergency appeal will help us reduce the morbidity and mortality associated with the current socio-economic environment by December 2009," Parirenyatwa said.

The United Nations humanitarian office estimates the death toll from a deadly cholera outbreak at 565 people, with the capital Harare the worst affected.

The disease is preventable and treatable under normal circumstances, but Zimbabwe’s health sector is collapsing with not enough money to pay for essential resources and doctors and nurses often striking over pay.

A political crisis and economic meltdown have left the water delivery system in disarray, forcing residents to drink from contaminated wells and streams.

The southern African country is suffering the world’s highest inflation, officially estimated at 231 million percent, unemployment of more than 80 percent and dire food, water and fuel shortages.

Critics blame the crisis on President Robert Mugabe’s policies, and the situation has worsened amid a stalemate in power-sharing talks with the opposition over cabinet positions.

Zimbabwe’s deputy minister for water and infrastructural development Walter Mzembi said his ministry only had water treatment chemicals to last about 12 weeks, and called for donor support, the Herald reported.

"I am appealing for at least 40 million rand to purchase chemicals for the next two months and the money is needed between now and next Monday," the newspaper quoted him as saying.

The Zimbabwe government also appealed for $450 million in aid to deal with food shortages.

Western governments have shunned Mugabe’s government, and blame his policies for the crisis, including the forced removal of white commercial farmers from what was once southern Africa’s bread basket.