Cholera ravages a population weakened by hunger

By mborum

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HARARE ? More then 300,000 people already seriously weakened by lack of food are in grave danger from the cholera epidemic currently sweeping Zimbabwe, said international aid agency Oxfam today.

The Zimbabwean government has declared a national health emergency. Oxfam welcomed the declaration, saying that it should spur international donors to respond more urgently to the humanitarian needs.

"People have been going without enough food for months. They are hungry, weak, and vulnerable to infection. Some donors have immediately made sums available, and that will make a real difference. But this is far from enough. Unless the international community steps up to provide money for food and medical assistance immediately, the already dire situation will get much worse,? said Peter Mutoredzanwa, Country Director for Oxfam in Zimbabwe.

"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. With the rainy season upon us, the epidemic will spread even more rapidly. Aid agencies urgently need support from the international community to scale up their efforts,? Mutoredzanwa added.

Ordinary Zimbabweans desperately need health care, clean water and sanitation. Cholera, a water-born disease, has surged due to the breakdown of city sewerage systems, poor maintenance of water supply systems, including hand pumps, severe drinking water shortages, and the lack of basic hygiene items such as soap.

?With close to half the population weakened by serious food shortages, cholera when it hits is even more likely to be lethal,? said Mutoredzanwa. ?Indications are that more than 5 million people will urgently need food aid by January.?

Oxfam is distributing 12,000 metric tons of maize meal, vegetable oil and pulses in collaboration with the World Food Program (WFP), reaching 150,000 vulnerable people. The agency?s cholera response will now be scaling up to target 615,000 people, and focusing on three of the worst hit areas: Beitbridge on the South African border; Budiriro, a suburb of Harare; and Mudzi, an area bordering Mozambique. The aid agency also plans to start moving into areas where cholera has not hit, to proactively prevent the spread of the disease.

?We are very concerned that unless donors pledge additional money now, food aid rations will have to be cut,? said Mutoredzanwa. ?No one should wait for a political solution in Zimbabwe before pledging to help—this will be too late for millions of vulnerable Zimbabweans.?

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