Zimbabwe cholera cases top 60,000, says UN

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More than 60,000 people have been infected with cholera in Zimbabwe, a figure which the World Health Organisation (WHO) had said would be a "worst case scenario" in the epidemic which broke out in August.

Some 60,401 people have caught the water-borne disease, of whom 3,161 have died, according to the latest figures released today by the United Nations in Geneva.

"The humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe is acute and worsening," Elisabeth Byrs, spokeswoman of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told Reuters. "Aid is more necessary than ever. This is a critical moment."

The world body appealed to donors to provide urgently needed aid to Zimbabwe, where it is trying to feed about 5.5 million people reeling from dwindling food supplies and hyperinflation.

The United Nations, which is seeking $567m for Zimbabwe this year, has yet to receive any contributions from donor countries, she said.

Civil servants in health facilities and schools are not turning up for work because they haven't been paid, and their salaries must be provided in American dollars, Byrs said.

Zimbabweans are being allowed to do business in foreign currencies as part of a bid to tackle the hyperinflation that has destroyed the Zimbabwean dollar. The crisis shows no sign of ending without concrete moves by President Robert Mugabe and the opposition to implement a power-sharing agreement.

"A further deterioration could be minimised given an adequate assistance and political stability via the formation of a government of national unity," Byrs said.

The deadliest outbreak in Africa in 15 years shows no sign of abating, with 1,493 new cases including 69 deaths reported in the past 24 hours, according to the UN update.

Two of out of every three deaths are being recorded outside of the cholera treatment centres, Byrs said.