By Kylie M Tsudama
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa
HARARE, Zimbabwe – According to the head of medical NGO Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) Rian Van De Braak, cholera will return to Zimbabwe. The question is when.
“The threat is definitely not over,” he said. “Everyone expects cholera to be back, at the latest with the nest rainy season [in September or October], because the root causes of the outbreak [in 2008] have not been addressed adequately yet.”
The cholera epidemic first hit Zimbabwe in August 2008 and lasted almost a full year before it was officially declared over in July 2009.
“Although Zimbabwe is not facing armed conflict, humanitarian threats such as food shortages and outbreak of diseases such as cholera pose a significant challenge,” said Agostinho Zacarias, Zimbabwe’s representative from the UN Development Programme. “The recent [cholera] epidemic resulted in 98,592 cumulative cases, including 4,288 deaths.”
Cholera is a waterborne disease. The latest epidemic was caused by broken sanitation and water systems. As a result, more than half of Zimbabweans rely on unsanitary water systems because they have limited or no access to safe water and sanitation systems. These problems are not likely to be repaired before the next rainy season begins, leaving Zimbabwe vulnerable to another outbreak.
“Several aid agencies are drilling new boreholes in cholera hotspots, which is an important contribution to safe drinking water. Dealing with those causes before the next rainy season is a race against the clock,” Van De Braak said. “The dilapidated water and sewage systems are still a major problem.”
In 2008, President Robert Mugabe had banned many NGOs from operation. This time, however, the aid agencies are prepared for the worst and will “respond immediately” to the next outbreak.
“There is need for Zimbabwe to move from the humanitarian support stage to the recovery stage. Zimbabwe is no longer a country in crisis but a country in recovery,” he said.
Still, UNICEF’s Peter Salama says another outbreak is “almost inevitable.”
He said, “There is a deterioration of infrastructure in the country and Zimbabwe has not made progress in improving this infrastructure. This will expose people to another cholera outbreak again.”
Zimbabwe also suffers from food shortages and an AIDS epidemic, which takes more than 400 lives every day.
For more information, please see:
IRIN – Zimbabwe: Return of Cholera Expected Soon – 20 August 2009
AFP – UN Receives Less Than Half of Promised Aid – 19 August 2009
BBC – Cholera ‘May Return to Zimbabwe’ – 19 August 2009
CNN – U.N. Official: Zimbabwe’s Woes ‘Pose Significant Challenge’ – 19 August 2009
MSF (Doctors Without Borders) – Zimbabwe: Beyond Borders – Beyond the Crisis? – 19 August 2009
Reuters – Zimbabwe: Return of Cholera Expected Soon – 19 August 2009