- The conditions that led to the worst cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe’s history last year, including poor water and sanitation infrastructure, remain and the disease could return this year, an official with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned today.
The Southern African nation recorded around 100,000 cases of cholera and more than 4,000 deaths between August 2008 and July 2009.
Over 90 percent of Zimbabwe’s 62 districts were infected with the water-borne disease and more than 60 percent of deaths occurred in rural areas where limited or no treatment was reaching the local population.
“Unfortunately, the conditions that produced last year’s outbreak and the outbreaks in the five or six years previously every rainy season are still largely there,” UNICEF Representative Peter Salamah, said in an interview with UN Radio. “So we are really doubling our efforts this time to prepare for that eventuality.”
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 6 million people in Zimbabwe have limited or no access to safe water and sanitation in rural and urban areas.
“Urban municipal councils can’t purchase the water treatment chemicals required to make the water safe for urban populations and that’s been one of the real drivers of the cholera outbreak in recent years,” said Mr Salamah.
“The other issue is the breakdown in piping – piping of water, but also sewage piping, so much so that in some parts of the country open sewage is mixed with water, causing, of course, huge problems with diarrhoeal disease,” he added.
Mr Salamah said humanitarian agencies have been working “around the clock” with the government on key efforts to prevent another cholera outbreak. UNICEF is preparing by pre-positioning non-food items, such as safe water containers and chlorine tablets, and by educating people about the disease, which is caused by contaminated food or water.
In June, the UN agencies and their partners requested $718 million to address humanitarian needs in the country, including boosting access to clean water, and providing food aid and education. To date, only some 53 percent of that appeal has been funded.
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