Zim cholera death toll passes 3 000 mark

The death toll from the cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe has now passed the 3 000 mark, the United Nations World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Wednesday.

A total of 3 028 people are now known to have died from the water-borne disease while 57 702 have been affected, the organisation said in its latest update.

The latest death toll represents an increase of more than 1 000 deaths in the past 15 days in the country, which is in the midst of a political and economic crisis that has led to the collapse of the health system.

On Tuesday, WHO spokesperson Fadela Chaib said: “It’s one of the worst and largest outbreaks of cholera.”

“The situation of cholera is not under control, it’s even out of control, and it will remain so for the near future.

“We’re seeing the worst-case scenario of 60 000 [cases] within reach,” she added.

The numbers are expected to grow with the onset of the rainy season in Zimbabwe.

The United Nations’s health agency estimates that about half of Zimbabwe’s population of about 12-million are at risk from cholera because of poor living conditions.

The worst-case scenario for health experts involves 1% of a vulnerable population being infected, in Zimbabwe’s case about 60 000 people, Chaib explained.

Desperate measures
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe will present its annual budget this week, which analysts expect to contain desperate measures in the wake of economic collapse amid political crisis.

Zanu-PF leader Robert Mugabe’s acting Finance Minister, Patrick Chinamasa, will unveil the 2009 budget in Parliament on Thursday, most likely in United States dollars, because soaring hyper-inflation has left the Zimbabwean dollar virtually worthless.

Analysts say the budget—coming two months later than usual—would be both a number-crunching exercise and a confirmation that Zimbabwe has been forced to use foreign currencies after the spectacular collapse of its own currency.

“The situation is so desperate and I think, outside the usual statements about political enemies, we are going to see some desperate proposals to try to get the economy out of this mess,” said John Robertson, an economic consultant.

Besides “dollarisation”, Mugabe’s government is expected to introduce some new taxes in foreign currency—including income and capital gains—to try to boost empty state coffers.

“The simple change of currency is not going to save the economy, but may actually create more problems by getting the whole country, workers across the board, to believe they can get foreign currency without production,” Robertson said.

“What is going to save the economy is an acceptance that we are in this mess because of bad policies and bad politics and that we have to change those to have a foundation for recovery.”

John Makumbe, a veteran political analyst and Mugabe critic, also said the 2009 budget would—as with others in the last 10 years—not be able to pull Zimbabwe out of its deep troubles.

“Mugabe has turned Zimbabwe into a pariah state, and the economy stands condemned and is not going to get any substantial foreign investment or foreign aid until the political crisis is sorted,” he said.

Zimbabwe’s economic data is anyone’s guess at the moment.

The government has not released any official inflation figures since July when annual inflation stood at a staggering 231-million percent—the highest in the world—while state spending figures have also not been disclosed.

In its 2008 budget, Mugabe’s government forecast that the Zimbabwe’s gross domestic product (GDP) would grow by 4% after nearly a decade in decline and that inflation—which stood at 8 000% in November 2007—would average below 2 000% in 2008 on increased farming output.

Instead, the economy has plumbed deeper into recession and what had been dubbed “the mother of all farming seasons” turned into another disaster.—AFP, Reuters

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