Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today welcomed the agreement reached between the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), led by Morgan Tsvangirai, and President Robert Mugabe''s ruling Zanu-PF to form a government of national unity in Zimbabwe.
Mr. Ban called on the new Government to “take all necessary measures to address the humanitarian and economic crises in the country and respect democratic freedoms,” in a statement issued by his spokesperson.
With the deadly cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe claiming 3,100 lives and infecting a staggering 60,000 people, the UN also announced today that it is releasing close to $8 million from its emergency fund to help fight the spread of the disease.
The number of cholera cases has surpassed the UN World Health Organization''s (WHO) worst-case scenario figure, indicating that the outbreak is spiralling out of control despite the concerted efforts of local health authorities, the UN and non-governmental organizations.
The $7.8 million allocation from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) was issued to help Zimbabwean authorities and UN agencies to implement a number of urgently needed life-saving programmes.
“This CERF allocation will enable agencies to buy some of the most essential drugs and materials required, but it is far from enough,” warned Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes.
Mr. Holmes urged donors to step up and help fund the $567 million appeal UN agencies and their humanitarian partners have launched to support those in need in Zimbabwe in 2009, as only 12 per cent has been pledged so far.
WHO, in close cooperation with the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare and the UN World Food Programme (WFP), will use $2 million of the CERF allocation to deploy 12 more staff to each of Zimbabwe''s provinces, and to bolster disease monitoring, including repairing and installing better communications equipment.
“Unless drastic action is taken by all players in this crisis, more Zimbabweans will succumb to the outbreak, and other countries in the southern African region will face the continued threat of spill over epidemics,” said the Assistant Director-General for WHO''s Health Action in Crises Cluster, Eric Laroche.
“We are dealing with an extraordinary public health crisis that requires from us all an extraordinary public health emergency response, and this must happen now before the outbreak causes more needless suffering and death,” warned Mr. Laroche, adding that political differences and economic barriers need to be dismantled “to save many more people from dying due to a disease that can be readily prevented and treated.”
Efforts to counter the epidemic, which has spread to all 10 of Zimbabwe''s provinces, have been undermined by a shortage of safe drinking water, inadequate sanitation, the collapsing health care infrastructure, and the high drop out rate of underpaid health workers.
Consequently, WFP will use around $400,000 of the CERF to provide logistical support for the anti-cholera effort and the UN Children''s Fund (UNICEF) will buy essential medicines, water and sanitation supplies worth around $2 million, as well as initiate an innovative $3 million incentive scheme for health workers aiming to bring them back to their posts.
The cholera epidemic is ravaging Zimbabwe at the country''s peak hunger period (January to March) with almost seven million people, more than half the country''s population, relying on food aid.
There is also mounting concern that with heavy rainfall forecasted for the coming weeks, floods could derail efforts to control the disease as more water sources could become contaminated.
The cholera epidemic is just the latest crisis to strike Zimbabwe, which has faced years of failed harvests, bad governance, hyperinflation and a failing banking system, as well as months of political tensions after disputed presidential elections in March.