The Zimbabwean authorities must take urgent measures to prevent the spread of a cholera epidemic that has so far claimed 20 lives, said Amnesty International, after the government today declared the outbreak a national disaster.

Initial cases of cholera were reported in Gweru and Harare last month, and the capital is now the worst-affected area, with more than 15 people confirmed to have died of the infectious disease.

During the country’s 2008 cholera outbreak – which claimed the lives of more than 4,300 people, the largest ever recorded in Zimbabwe – Amnesty found the government’s failure to contain and manage the outbreak was caused by the lack of a safe drinking water supply and broken-down sanitation systems that left many people surrounded by flowing raw sewage near their homes.

Amnesty is calling on the Zimbabwean government to take immediate action to ensure that further deaths in the current epidemic are prevented through ensuring access to appropriate medical care and treatment. Longer term, the new government must prioritise rebuilding the country’s healthcare system and infrastructure.

Jessica Pwiti, Amnesty International Zimbabwe’s Executive Director, said:

“The current cholera epidemic is a terrible consequence of Zimbabwe’s failure to invest in and manage both its basic water and sanitation infrastructure and its health care system.

“It is appalling that in 2018, people are still dying of such a preventable disease.

“Given what happened in 2008, the government should have been better prepared. But no lessons were learned from the 2008 epidemic, and the outbreak and deaths we’re seeing now is symptomatic of a still-broken sanitation infrastructure and poor sewer management, worsened by shortages of drugs and medical supplies.

“The newly-elected government of Zimbabwe must learn from its predecessor’s mistakes and take action that stops people dying from preventable diseases. The authorities must invest in proper sanitation and health infrastructure, and ensure universal access to health care.

“If Zimbabwe lacks the resources to address these issues it can, and is obliged under international law to do so, request assistance. As the government itself has now admitted, this is a national disaster which requires an immediate and effective response.”