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Zimbabwe: A Surge In Cholera Deaths

The widespread cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe continues to take its toll. The United Nations reported yesterday that the disease, which is mainly transmitted through contaminated water and food, has killed almost 1,000 people (978 to be exact) since the outbreak started in August. This new death toll is a 25 percent increase from figures released last week by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The UN also says that 18,413 suspected cholera cases have been reported across the country. The disease has been found in nine of Zimbabwe’s 10 provinces, and about half of these cases are in Budiriro, a heavily populated suburb outside the country's capital Harare. The quick spread of cholera is being blamed on Zimbabwe's deteriorating water supply system, leading to a lack of clean drinking water and poor hygiene levels, as well as its collapsing health care system.

Nancy Reyes, blogging on Blogger News Network, says that Zimbabwe's water supply concerns are nothing new.

“In Zimbabwe, the problems with the Harare water supply has been known and complained about by residents for over a year. In January 2007, there were reports of sewage contaminating the water supply, then a few months ago, reports that those administering the water supply were not able to afford chemicals to keep the water clean. So it is not as if the epidemic could not have been foreseen. Now, the water supply is almost absent in Harare: It has been shut down.”

Still, others are surprised by the extent of this outbreak. PUMA Pundit, blogging on P.U.M.A, says:

“It makes absolutely no sense that in 2008, a country would be having a cholera epidemic. Cholera for crying out loud.

In this same country, human beings are forced to compete with animals in the search for wild fruits and vegetables.

As the global community, we must not allow Zimbabwe to deteriorate to the point of a failed state, although it is fast approaching that distinction.”

Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe claimed last week that his government, with the help of international agencies, had contained the cholera problem. This video shows his speech. The Zimbabwean government has also accused the U.K. and the U.S. of waging biological warfare and starting the country's cholera epidemic.

Omotaylor, commenting on a post on AfricanLoft, believes that these remarks show that Mugabe has gone too far.

“Mugabe is a rabid dog indeed. How does the symptoms of biological or chemical warfare compare with cholera? Does he think his people are that stupid? Well, good he shows the world how far gone he is with his MADNESS.”

CM, posting on Zimbabwe Review, adds that this crisis could have a lasting impact on Mugabe's presidency:

“The cholera epidemic sweeping Zimbabwe is mainly a humanitarian tragedy. But it also will have lasting effects on the country’s messy political situation…While Mugabe has been masterful at deflaying criticism over stolen elections and violence against his supporters by framing them all in an anti-imperialist cloak, that is not so easy to do with the cholera crisis. People dying of cholera cannot be accused of doing it because they are stooges of a Britain bent on re-colonising Zimbabwe!”

This health crisis also has serious implications for Zimbabwe's neighbors as the disease spreads beyond the country's borders. Confirmed cholera cases have now been found in South Africa, Botswana, and Mozambique. On her blog Karen Grepin advises that we take this threat seriously.

“A big threat to global security is currently brewing in the bowels of Southern Africa (pun intended). Due to deteriorating social, economic, and political conditions in Zimbabwe, cholera is quickly spreading throughout Southern Africa. Although this disease pops up ever now and again throughout the continent, the fact that the epicenter – or its ground zero – of this current epidemic is in Zimbabwe means that there is little holding it back.”

Mike Trapido, blogging on Thought Leader, adds that the actions of Mugabe and his government have been extremely irresponsible:

“As most of you who have been following this debacle will recall, initially Mugabe’s geniuses had tried to conceal the cholera outbreak. This meant that the citizens of that country were not only unaware of the danger which meant they never took steps to avoid it but just as important, were in the dark as to how to deal with a disease that kills its victims within 10-12 hours if not treated.

By concealing the danger Mugabe endangered not only the people of Zimbabwe but the entire region the results of which we are now witnessing in South Africa.”

The WHO warns that with the rainy season starting and the increased transit of people during the Christmas season, cholera will likely spread further and that the total number of cholera cases could reach 60,000. Many bloggers, such as PUMABydesign001, are calling for Mugabe to be ousted to prevent this from happening. She says:

“Enough is enough, Mugabe must go. The United States, the UK and the UN are not doing enough or working fast enough to rid the world of this animal. Mugabe must go sooner rather than later.”

Photo of Drinking Water by Julien Harneis on Flickr.

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