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Cholera spreads to Limpopo River

BUSINESS AS USUAL: Residents of Kuwadzana 3 Township in Harare, Zimbabwe, Novermber 2007, Walk past raw sewage. Vegetable vendors also go on with selling their tomatoes despite the stench from the raw sewage.
Residents of Kuwadzana 3 Township in Harare, Zimbabwe, walk past raw sewage (IRIN)

The Limpopo River, which delineates the border between Zimbabwe and South Africa before flowing through Mozambique into the Indian Ocean, has tested positive for cholera, according to local media reports.

According to the UN, Zimbabwe's "unprecedented cholera outbreak" has claimed 565 lives from the 12,546 recorded cases since August, and "is worsening and is becoming difficult to contain as it spreads from cities."

Zimbabwe Doctors for Human Rights, a non-governmental organisation, said the death toll could be in excess of 1,000 people.

The UN children's agency, UNICEF, said in a statement: "The onset of the rainy season threatens to make the waterborne disease endemic, as the spread of cholera becomes increasingly unpredictable and the response is outpaced by the outbreaks. Harare [the capital], where the highest numbers of cholera cases have been reported, continues to experience serious water outages."

The provincial health department spokesperson for South Africa's Limpopo Province, which borders Zimbabwe, told a local radio station that all the cholera cases detected in South Africa were linked to the Zimbabwe outbreak.

There have been six known deaths from cholera in South Africa: two South Africans and four Zimbabweans.

UNICEF said it had provided the Harare authorities with a month's supply of water treatment chemicals for the city and was distributing about 360,000 litres of drinking water daily.

Fuel, also in short supply, was being provided to assist in the cholera emergency, 40,000 litres of intra-venous fluids had been distributed, as well as thousands of hygiene kits, water treatment tablets and body bags.

Reticulated water was reportedly restored to Harare on 3 December after all water supplies had been cut off for the past few days.

The decline picks up speed  

The cholera epidemic is now affecting 42 of Zimbabwe's 62 districts, and is another blow to President Robert Mugabe's 28-year rule, which is appearing increasingly tenuous.

The official annual inflation rate of 281 million percent - the last official figures available since July 2008 - has created a severe cash shortage and resulted in soldiers looting shops in Harare after they could not withdraw their salaries from banks. Clashes between soldiers and police in the capital left at least one soldier dead.

''He [Mugabe] should either go voluntarily, or he should go by being forcibly removed. And I think we have to support the Zimbabwean people to achieve that objective''

Doctors and nurses have been on strike, causing hospitals and clinic to close or operate with minimal staff and volunteers; according to reports, a demonstration by health workers in Harare on 3 December was broken up by baton-wielding riot police.

The UN projects that in the first quarter of 2009 about 5.1 million Zimbabweans will require emergency food aid -or nearly half the population -  unemployment is estimated at 90 percent, municipal services - such as sanitation and reticulated water supplies - have collapsed, and there is growing impatience with Mugabe's rule among regional leaders.

Philip Dexter, a senior member of the Congress of the People (COPE), a breakaway political party from South Africa's ruling African National Congress, told the Cape Town Press Club on 2 December that "the only way to solve the Zimbabwe problem at this point is to put enough pressure on Mugabe for him to go.

"And he should either go voluntarily, or he should go by being forcibly removed," Dexter said. "And I think we have to support the Zimbabwean people to achieve that objective."


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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