Page last updated at 12:14 GMT, Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Zimbabwe prices 'begin to fall'

50 billion dollar Zimbabwean bank note
The Zimbabwean dollar has virtually disappeared from the streets

Prices in Zimbabwe have begun to fall after years of galloping inflation, according to figures from the state Central Statistical Office (CSO).

Prices of goods bought in US dollars, Zimbabwe's new official currency, fell by up to 3% in January and February.

They were the first official figures since the country's recent adoption of the US dollar.

The IMF meanwhile said it would not give aid to Zimbabwe until it cleared its debts and implemented sound policy.

"Technical and financial assistance from the the IMF will depend on establishing a track record of sound policy implementation, donor support and a resolution of overdue financial obligations to official creditors, including the IMF," the International Monetary Fund said.

The fund suspended Zimbabwe in June 2003 as President Robert Mugabe's government fell behind on debt repayments.

Tsvangirai back home

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has returned to Zimbabwe after a week in South Africa.

The Movement for Democratic Change leader said on Tuesday he was ready to get back to work after his wife's death in a road crash earlier this month.

Woman feeds a child at the Budiriro Cholera clinic in Harare, Zimbabwe, in December 2008
Zimbabwe's cholera outbreak has been Africa's deadliest in 15 years

The US dollar was adopted by Zimbabwe's government following the inauguration of the unity government between the MDC and President Mugabe's Zanu-PF.

Revealing the latest official figures on Tuesday, Central Statistical Office head Moffat Nyoni said the items priced at an average of $100 (£68) in January cost $97 (£66) this month.

Finance Minister Tendai Biti last week projected inflation would fall to just 10% by the end of this year with the help of foreign currency to stabilise prices.

The Southern African Development Community will meet on Monday in Swaziland to consider a request by Mr Tsvangirai for $2bn (£1.4bn) in loans and aid.

The unity government has made a priority of rebuilding Zimbabwe's shattered economy and estimates it will need a total of $5bn (£3.4bn) to get back on track.

The Zimbabwean dollar has disappeared from the streets since it was dumped as official currency.

Once on a par with the British pound, the Zimbabwean dollar's value had slumped to almost nothing, forcing people to pay trillions of dollars for a loaf of bread.

The international community has been helping Zimbabwe cope with its cholera epidemic, but most development aid is being withheld until signs of effective power sharing are deemed apparent.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday the number of new cholera cases in Zimbabwe had almost halved in the last week.

There have been more than 90,000 cholera cases in Zimbabwe since the start of the outbreak last August, about 4,000 of them fatal.

The epidemic has been fuelled by the collapse of Zimbabwe's water, sanitation and health systems.

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