Zimbabwe cholera death toll nears 1,000, UN reports

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The death toll from Zimbabwe's worst-ever cholera outbreak is approaching 1,000, the United Nations reported today, as Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that the country's leadership is not doing enough to address the dire situation in the Southern African nation.

"We continue to witness a failure of the leadership in Zimbabwe to address the political, economic, human rights and humanitarian crisis that is confronting the country and to do what is best for the people of Zimbabwe," Mr. Ban told a closed-door session of the Security Council.

The UN said today the number of suspected cholera cases has risen to 18, 413 with 978 deaths. The outbreak is now affecting nine out of ten provinces in the country and spilling across borders into South Africa, Botswana, and Mozambique.

About half of all cases in Zimbabwe are in one suburb of the capital, Harare, and another 26 per cent in a town on the border with South Africa.

UN agencies have been scaling up their efforts in recent weeks to tackle the crisis, which is the most serious ever registered in Zimbabwe, as well as the effects of collapsing social services.

The UN World Health Organization (WHO) has drawn up a comprehensive cholera response operation plan, and is in the process of procuring and distributing emergency stocks of supplies to run health centres. The Government has accepted the plan and has also declared a state of emergency.

Zimbabwe is mired in a crisis brought about by a confluence of factors, including three years of failed harvests, bad governance and hyperinflation, among others.

The country has endured months of political tensions after disputed presidential elections in March involving the incumbent Robert Mugabe and the opposition figure Morgan Tsvangirai. A power-sharing deal on the formation of a new government was reached in September with the help of regional leaders, but outstanding issues remain, jeopardizing the deal's implementation.

In his briefing to the Council today, Mr. Ban noted that the lack of progress on the political front is accompanied by a "dramatic" deterioration in living conditions and of the humanitarian situation.

"The current cholera epidemic is only the most visible manifestation of a profound multi-sectoral crisis, encompassing food, agriculture, education, health, water, sanitation and HIV/AIDS."

He reported that close to 80 per cent of the country has no access to safe drinking water, and the vast majority of the population does not have adequate sanitary facilities - the very conditions that have allowed the acute intestinal infection caused by contaminated food or water to develop and flourish.