Zimbabweans eating cow dung as hunger deepens

Caritas staff in rural Zimbabwe are reporting that families are mixing their dwindling food supplies with cow dung to stave off hunger.

Caritas Internationalis Secretary General Lesley-Anne Knight said, "Our staff say that people in Zimbabwe are dropping dead on the streets from Cholera. They've witnessed people mixing cow dung with what's left of their food to make it go further. This is poverty at its most dehumanising."

Caritas aid operations are planning to ramp up across the country with hunger likely to increase after poor harvests.

A Caritas survey in the areas it works in October found 70 to 90 percent of households going hungry depending on the area and the rest on the brink of starving. At least 5.1 million people are facing starvation out of a population of 13 million people. Nearly 14,000 cases of Cholera have been reported.

It's unknown how people living with HIV and AIDS are surviving without either the necessary medicines or the necessary level of nutrition that is key to the effectiveness of anti-retroviral treatment.

The country's economy, agriculture, its education and healthcare systems have virtually collapsed. There is a vacuum in political leadership necessary to address the crisis. Power-sharing has been stalled for months when urgent action was needed.

Caritas members continue to provide direct food aid to over 600,000 people and indirectly help many more. They're taking steps to address the cholera outbreak by increasing access to safe water and sanitation. These include the drilling of new wells and the distribution of hygiene kits.

Lesley-Anne Knight said, "Zimbabwe's political impasse can continue no longer. An effective government that can rectify the policies that have put the country into this position must be established.

"The international community must maintain the pressure on Zimbabwe for an end to this crisis. We must also prepare ourselves for the implosion of the country and the catastrophe that will mean in terms of human suffering across the region. Zimbabwe's neighbours must address the xenophobia directed at Zimbabwean refugees in their own countries.

"These are very challenging conditions for aid agencies to operate, but Caritas remains committed to delivering aid to the country in its hour of need."