Page last updated at 11:45 GMT, Thursday, 18 December 2008

Zimbabwe cholera outbreak widens


A silent protest in Harare

Zimbabwe's cholera epidemic continues to spread and has now claimed 1,111 lives among 20,581 cases since August.

Latest UN figures include a new outbreak of hundreds of cases in Chegutu, near the capital Harare, which has been worst hit by the disease.

Aid agency Oxfam has launched a 4m ($6.2m) appeal to tackle the epidemic and acute food shortage in Zimbabwe.

It comes as the ruling Zanu-PF holds its annual conference, with a minister saying the party is "united".

'Throwing spanners'

President Robert Mugabe's party is meeting in the small mining town of Bindura, 80km (50 miles) north-west of Harare - following the first-ever loss of its parliamentary majority in elections this year.

Zimbabwe cholera patient in wheelbarrow
The Zimbabwe situation is bad and the worrying thing is that it could get a lot worse

Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu told the BBC World Service's Network Africa programme it would not be a "sing-song" conference.

"You know no party is monolithic and most parties have people with different views and so the conference will listen to the views, even divergent views," he said.

He also rejected the suggestion there was political deadlock in Zimbabwe, saying an agreement on power-sharing between Zanu-PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) was "imminent".

Both sides have been in negotiations to set up a unity government since September, following disputed presidential elections in March and June.

"The deadlock exists in the minds of those who want there to be a deadlock in Zimbabwe - the handlers of the opposition who want their interests safeguarded," said Mr Ndlovu.

"We hope no-one from the Western countries and Britain should keep throwing spanners in our efforts to have an inclusive government."

'Scavenge for food'

Thursday's updated cholera figures from the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs were up from nearly 1,000 deaths and 18,000 cases earlier this week.

Robert Mugabe
Mr Mugabe has claimed there is an international plot to invade Zimbabwe

Harare remains badly hit with almost three-quarters of cases there sprouting in the last fortnight, underlining the "intense" cholera transmission rate in the city, added the UN.

The easily preventable disease has spread because of the collapse of health services and water sanitation in Zimbabwe.

The UN World Health Organization has said the total number of cases could reach 60,000 unless the epidemic is stopped.

A week ago Mr Mugabe said the outbreak had been "arrested".

He claimed Western powers wanted to use an epidemic as an excuse to invade Zimbabwe and topple him.

Oxfam spokesman Jon Slater said on Thursday food shortages would only worsen as crops are not grown amid the epidemic.

"That puts people in increased risk of cholera because people who are hungry are more likely to catch the disease because their body is weaker and because they are forced to scavenge for food and have to collect it from dirty places," he said.

'No military intervention'

Meanwhile, South African ruling ANC leader Jacob Zuma said in a radio interview there was no reason for sending troops to Zimbabwe.

"Why military intervention when there is no war?" he told South Africa's 702 Talk Radio.

"We should be pressurising them to see the light."

Zimbabwe claimed earlier this week that Botswana, which has joined growing international calls for Mr Mugabe to quit, was hosting military training camps for MDC rebels.

But the current chairperson of the the Southern African Development Community, South African President Kgalema Motlanthe, said on Wednesday: "We never believed that."

Map of spread of cholera in Zimbabwe

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