Zimbabweans are facing yet another difficult year in 2009, unless a political settlement is found to arrest the fast deteriorating socio-economic conditions in the country.
Thousands of Zimbabweans are facing death following a cholera outbreak that started in August, while nearly half of the population is in desperate need of food aid. International response to the multiple crises facing the country is being complicated by the Zimbabwean authorities’ repeated attempts to politicise humanitarian work and cover up the extent of the problems bedevilling the southern African country for political reasons.
The cholera outbreak that started in August has exposed the extent of decline of the health services. Officially, over 1,200 people have died while nearly 24,000 cases have been recorded. However, the actual death toll is believed to be higher than that being reported, mainly due to a lack of capacity to document all the cases.
Amnesty International was told by asylum seekers who had just arrived in South Africa from Zimbabwe that, in some villages, as many as 10 deaths were being recorded. A number of major hospitals have been closed, while the remaining doctors and nurses at state hospitals have been on prolonged strikes over poor working conditions and shortage of drugs. Church-run hospitals, which had provided relief for many rural communities, are also reported to be on the verge of collapse.
Cholera is both a preventable and curable disease. The current outbreak was triggered by the collapse of water and sanitation management in Zimbabwe’s major cities, including the capital Harare.
Over five million Zimbabweans are facing severe food shortages and are dependent on international humanitarian efforts. Those fleeing hunger in the provinces of Masvingo and Matabeleland, interviewed by Amnesty International in December in the South African border town of Musina, told the organisation that many rural families were now living on wild fruit.
Humanitarian workers also told Amnesty International that the 2008-9 farming season was a failure for many families who were unable to secure seed and fertilisers. The number of those in need of food aid is likely to increase in 2009.
A combination of political instability, the cholera outbreak and severe food insecurity is driving thousands of Zimbabweans to cross the borders into neighbouring countries.
As many as 1,000 unaccompanied children are reported to be in the border town of Musina alone. Those fleeing also include younger people from rural areas who fear further political violence if the political agreement signed by the major political parties in Zimbabwe on 15 September collapses.