Zimbabwe in state of emergency

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The Independent Online

Zimbabwe declared a national emergency as it battled to halt a cholera outbreak that has killed more than 560 people and forced its government to appeal for international assistance.

Neighbouring South Africa said it was extremely concerned about conditions. Thousands of Zimbabweans are believed to cross the border, often illegally, into South Africa each day. Economic meltdown in Zimbabwe, isolated by Western countries under President Robert Mugabe's authoritarian 28-year rule, has left the health system ill-prepared to cope with an epidemic that it once would have treated easily. There is no money to pay doctors and nurses or buy medicine. "Our central hospitals are literally not functioning," the Health Minister, David Parirenyatwa, said in an appeal to donors. "Our staff is demotivated and we need your support to ensure that they start coming to work and our health system is revived." Mr Parirenyatwa said Zimbabwe needed medicine, medical equipment and food for patients and child-feeding programmes. The United Nations humanitarian office estimates the death toll from the cholera outbreak at 565, with the capital, Harare, the worst-affected. The collapse of the water system has forced residents to drink from sewage-contaminated wells and streams. The World Health Organisation said it was preparing to send its own team, and South Africa, already treating an increasing flood of cholera refugees from Zimbabwe, said it would help. Western nations, which have accused Mr Mugabe of running the once-prosperous nation into the ground, also promised aid. Gordon Brown said the world would not turn its back on Zimbabwe, despite objections to Mr Mugabe. "Mugabe's failed state is no longer willing or capable of protecting its people," Mr Brown said. "We are increasing our development aid, and calling on others to follow suit."