South African team to assess Zimbabwe food crisis

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) – South Africa will send a team of senior government officials to Zimbabwe next week to assess the food crisis in the neighbouring country and investigate what aid is needed, a government spokesman said on Friday.

Zimbabwe has declared a national emergency and appealed for international help as it battles a cholera outbreak that has killed at least 565 people.

South African government spokesman Themba Maseko said a team of officials will visit Zimbabwe next week to investigate the food and health crisis.

"The purpose of the visit will be to assess the situation on the ground, determine the level of assistance required and to consult with the representatives of the various stakeholders in Zimbabwe on how a … distribution and monitoring mechanism could be set up," Maseko said.

Thousands of Zimbabweans are believed to cross the border, often illegally, into South Africa each day.

Economic meltdown in Zimbabwe, isolated by Western countries under President Robert Mugabe’s increasingly authoritarian rule, has left the health system ill-prepared to cope with a cholera epidemic that it once would have prevented or treated easily.

There is not enough money to pay doctors and nurses or buy medicine and aid agency Oxfam estimated that at least 300,000 people weakened by lack of food are in danger from the cholera epidemic.

"Millions of people were already facing starvation. With unemployment over 80 percent, and food unavailable across the country, they now have to contend with cholera and other diseases as the water and sanitation systems break down," Peter Mutoredzanwa, Country Director for Oxfam in Zimbabwe, said in a statement.