Zimbabweans 'can't afford to bury their dead'

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The Independent Online

Zimbabweans are abandoning the bodies of their relatives at mortuaries because they can no longer afford to bury them.

Harare Central Hospital, whose mortuary is designed to handle only 146 corpses, is holding 500 unclaimed bodies. Other hospitals around the country are having to cope with a similar problem.

"We have a lot of bodies that have been abandoned and unclaimed by relatives for various reasons, including, for example, the cost of a funeral," Harare Central Hospital's medical superintendent told the country's only privately owned newspaper, The Daily News.

Burying a relative has become extremely costly for Zimbabweans, coping with a deepening economic crisis. Because of a fuel shortage, people are unable to perform traditional burial rites, which entail travel. Some families are carrying dead relatives to the few petrol stations that manage to obtain fuel, hoping for sympathetic managers who will allow them to queue jump.

President Robert Mugabe's government yesterday launched a food appeal, asking foreign donors to provide about a third of the country's food needs to avoid famine ahead of harvests early next year. It forecast a food shortfall this year of about 712,000 tons, mainly of corn.

Zimbabwe has been reduced to asking for donations because it lacks foreign currency to pay for imports. The UN food agency said that the lateness of the appeal meant that aid might not arrive in time.