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Government declares a national emergency

Water levels rising in Lake Chivero after heavy rains.

Zimbabwe's government has declared a national emergency in an attempt to deal with a cholera epidemic, but with the collapse of services like health, sanitation, refuse collection and water supply it is unclear how the country will counter the waterborne disease.

Since August more than 500 people have died from the easily treatable illness, according to the UN, although civil society organisations say the number of deaths is in excess of 1,000.

Health and Child Welfare minister David Parirenyatwa told a media briefing that "Our central hospitals are literally not functioning; our staff are demotivated, and we need support to ensure that they start coming to work and our health system is revived."

Walter Mzembi, the deputy minister responsible for water treatment and delivery, has appealed for US$4 million for the purchase of water treatment chemicals.

Parts of the capital, Harare, have been without water for a week, while water supplies to the whole city were cut off for 48 hours. Although piped water supplies to some parts of the capital have resumed, the taps are emitting a muddy and foul-smelling liquid.

UNDP country representative Agostinho Zacarias said, "We need to pull our resources together and see how best we can respond to this emergency."

''[President Robert] Mugabe's failed state is no longer willing or capable of protecting its people. Thosands are stricken with cholera, and must be helped urgently''

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said in a statement on 4 December that "[President Robert] Mugabe's failed state is no longer willing or capable of protecting its people. Thousands are stricken with cholera, and must be helped urgently.

"The international community's differences with Mugabe will not prevent us doing so - we are increasing our development aid, and calling on others to follow."

Britain, the country's former colonial power, pledged about US$11 million to assist in the fight against cholera.

On the back of what the UN has called an "unprecedented cholera outbreak", the country is approaching its peak food crisis in less than a month; the UN predicts that 5.1 million people, nearly half the population, will require emergency food aid in the first quarter of 2009.

A government official told an economic meeting this week: "The humanitarian situation is very serious and the government must mobilise maize and wheat to last until March next year."

"Nobody will starve," was Mugabe's election slogan during the violence-plagued presidential poll earlier in 2008. The government this week launched a US$450 million appeal for food.

In October the UN World Food Programme (WFP) appealed for an additional US$140 million to sustain its food aid programmes until the March harvest. WFP's Southern Africa spokesman, Richard Lee, told IRIN that so far about US$15 million had been pledged.

Food analysts believe the March harvest is unlikely to bring respite, as agricultural inputs were not distributed and seeds were eaten to stave off hunger.

Journalist abducted

A group of soldiers rioted in the streets of Harare after they were unable to withdraw their wages from banks because of acute cash shortages brought about by an official annual inflation rate of 231 million percent. A journalist was also abducted on 3 December.

Journalist Jestina Mukoko, who had been documenting incidents of election violence - particularly the abuse of women - was taken from her home at gunpoint. She has not been seen since.

"We demand that police and other security arms should shed light on the circumstances surrounding Jestina Mukoko's disappearance," the president of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists, Matthew Takaona, told IRIN while speaking on behalf of the Media Alliance of Zimbabwe, an umbrella body for media organisations.

"The continued harassment of journalists and civil society activists runs contrary to the spirit of the ongoing power-sharing talks," he said.

"We urge all political parties and guarantors of the [power-sharing] deal, SADC [Southern African Development Community] and the AU [African Union] to get to the bottom of the matter concerning our colleague."


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: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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