Over 1 million at risk as cholera epidemic hits Zimbabwe

The government of Zimbabwe should declare the current cholera epidemic a national health emergency, international aid agency Oxfam said today, so that urgent national and international aid can be mobilised to address the outbreak. The disease outbreak, a result of the breakdown of basic water and sanitation services, has killed at least 300 people in the last two weeks, and infected more than 6000 across the country

"Delay is not an option as this crisis could rapidly spread with the rainy season looming. The government of Zimbabwe must acknowledge the extent of the crisis and take immediate steps to mobilize all available resources to deal with the epidemic," said Charles Abani, Regional Director for Oxfam in Southern Africa. "We urgently need international donors to support all humanitarian plans to tackle the problem."

Ordinary Zimbabweans are desperately short of food, health care, clean water and safe sanitation. Cholera, a water-borne 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. Oxfam has contracted 10 trucks to transport more than 200 tonnes of soap and disinfectant into Zimbabwe.

The crisis is set to worsen significantly in December, when the rainy season begins. Cholera is already starting to spread into neighbouring countries.

"Our field assessments show an alarming deterioration of water quality and supply in clinics and hospitals with virtually none having access to safe water, and patients often having to supply their own. This applies equally to urban and rural health centres," said Abani.

Oxfam is:

- Distributing soap, buckets and water purification tablets to 24 000 people.

- Rehabilitating water points in Mudzi, a district bordering Mozambique.

- Distributing 1000 hygiene kits in Beitbridge, a town close to where many Zimbabweans cross the South African border, to families without water and sanitation. Each kit comprises a 20 litre-capacity jerrycan, 1kg soap, and aquatabs to purify 160 litres of water.

- Trucking 213 metric tonnes of soap into Zimbabwe, along with disinfectant chemicals - 3750 litres sodium hypochlorite and 550kgs of calcium hypochlorite, and 288 000 rolls of cotton wool.

"There have been more than 6000 cases of cholera reported since this epidemic began. These numbers are conservative however, as they don't include people who are sick and dying at home, without access to a clinic or hospital," said Abani.

"Oxfam's call to the political parties of Zimbabwe, leaders in the region and to the global community is to deal with this humanitarian crisis, irrespective of the status of political negotiations. In the interest of the poorest and most vulnerable Zimbabweans, and of countries neighbouring Zimbabwe, all concerned parties need to hasten a political settlement".

For information Caroline Hooper-Box +27 82 468 1905