Zimbabwe "under siege" says Church leader

HARARE – Bishop Levee Kadenge says the cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe has crippled the nation. The bishop says his country is 'under siege and full of distress' and the Robert Mugabe regime has no clue as to how to save lives of the whole nation at risk.

Bishop Kadenge is the national convenor of the Zimbabwe Christian Alliance, a Zimbabwean NGO helping in the crisis ridden country.

‘We do not deserve what is happening,’ says Bishop Kadenge. ‘We are demoralised, we have problem after problem. But we must remain faithful to the idea that Zimbabwe will have a good future.’

The cholera outbreak has affected more than 12,000 people and has killed close to 600. It was triggered in part by the breakdown in the country’s infrastructure and healthcare system as well a chronic shortage of clean water.

‘Cholera is just one of the problems faced by Zimbabweans,’ says William Anderson, Christian Aid’s country manager in Harare. ‘Many communicable and treatable diseases are rife due to the complete collapse of all public health systems.

‘Anthrax, TB, malaria, and diarrhoea are all present in the country at unprecedented levels. These are all due to the failed state, malnutrition and HIV.’

Bishop Kadenge stresses the churches have an important role in sending messages of hope and steadfastness to people across the country. He says the establishment of a Commission of Truth and Reconciliation is vital.

‘Such a commission, which must be led by the church and not the politicians, is a priority. We are a wounded people in desperate need of healing. We cannot pretend that nothing has happened. We must do our part and bring people together and repent,’ says the bishop.

Zimbabwe is also facing an extreme food shortage. Mr Anderson says it is ‘verging on famine’.

The UN’s World Food Programme says 4.2 million people need food aid but that it only has funds to feed 3.7 million.

There has also been a worrying spike in abductions of human rights workers in Zimbabwe. On 3 December, Jestina Mukoko, the executive director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project, was abducted from her home. She has not been seen or heard from since then, while the police deny arresting her.

‘We must pray for the future of Zimbabwe,’ says Bishop Kadenge. ‘Civil society organisations, NGOs and human rights groups are all part of God’s broader church and we must keep faith.’

Up to 60,000 people in Zimbabwe could become infected with cholera in a worst-case scenario if the epidemic gets out of control, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Tuesday.

"The health-cluster assessment in a worst-case scenario is 60,000 cases," WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib told a news briefing in Geneva.

The known number of cholera cases in the country stands at 13,960 with 589 deaths, although the true extent of the deadly outbreak which began in August is unclear, according to the United Nations agency.

The cholera outbreak is the worst recorded in Zimbabwe.

Cholera, an intestinal infection that spreads through contaminated food or water, can lead to severe dehydration and death without prompt treatment.

The highly-contagious disease is both preventable and treatable under normal circumstances, but Zimbabwe’s health sector has nearly collapsed as a result of the country’s economic crisis.

The WHO is considering providing financial incentives for unpaid health workers in Zimbabwe to return to their jobs, according to Chaib.

"It is total chaos, three hospitals in Harare are closed due to a lack of personnel," said Elisabeth Byrs, spokeswoman of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

ENDS