Zimbabwe cholera death toll nears 1 000

The death toll from cholera in Zimbabwe has soared to 978, with 18 413 suspected cases reported across the country, United Nations figures showed on Monday.

The country’s capital, Harare, is the worst-hit district, with 208 deaths and 8 454 suspected cases, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.

Beitbridge, which borders South Africa, was also badly affected. Ninety-one people in the border town have been killed by the disease, while 3 546 are suspected to be suffering from it.

Meanwhile, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband on Monday slammed “the denial of reality” by Zimbabwean President Mugabe’s regime as the UN Security Council reviewed the dire situation in the country.

The closed-door meeting, also attended by United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, heard a briefing from UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Zimbabwe’s mounting woes, including a political stalemate, economic meltdown and a deadly cholera epidemic.

US diplomats had initially hoped to have the council adopt a non-binding statement condemning Mugabe for his failure to protect his people from the cholera outbreak, but a Western diplomat said the plan had run into South African opposition.

Another Western diplomat made it clear that there was no consideration of a statement at Monday’s meeting.

And Rice also told Agence France-Presse that she was not disappointed, insisting that the ministerial session was not meant “to have an outcome”.

Asked whether there would be another council meeting on Zimbabwe before the end of President George Bush’s administration next month, she replied: “I don’t know. But I think it is high time to do something about Zimbabwe.”

Some Western council members said they hope to make a fresh push for adoption of such a statement in January when South Africa will no longer sit on the council.

“We believe that this meeting needs to mark the restart of Security Council engagement on this issue,” Miliband said. “I hope the Security Council will continue in the weeks ahead to continue to engage.”

Miliband told reporters after a closed-door council ministerial session that Ban presented a “shocking” picture of “the disintegration of state institutions, the collapse of the economy … the collapse of health and education services and the shocking fact that cholera has returned to Zimbabwe.”

In his briefing, Ban deplored the fact that “neither the [Harare] government nor the mediator welcomes a United Nations political role … This clearly limits our ability to effectively help find immediate remedies to this crisis.

“The current cholera epidemic is only the most visible manifestation of a profound multi-sectoral crisis, encompassing food, agriculture, education, health, water, sanitation and HIV/Aids,” he added.

He stressed that the mediation by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) “needs results fast”.

“The people of Zimbabwe cannot afford to wait any longer. The international community cannot afford to watch as the situation gets worse,” Ban noted. — AFP

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