Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today voiced alarm at the deteriorating humanitarian conditions inside Zimbabwe, where an estimated 6 million people could soon require food aid, a deadly cholera outbreak is spreading and health-care, education and sanitation services are collapsing.
In a statement issued by his spokesperson, Mr. Ban described the humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe as “now desperate” and said it is likely to only worsen in the coming months as the country’s political crisis continues.
“He is deeply concerned that nearly half of the total population of 12 million could require food assistance, and by reports that many households are now cutting back the number of meals eaten each day,” the statement said.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that the number of diagnosed cholera cases in Zimbabwe has now reached almost 9,000, and includes at least 350 deaths as of today – a rise of 1,600 cases and 53 deaths in just one day.
Mr. Ban urged all parties in the political crisis to support and provide humanitarian assistance and leave aside any political considerations.
Zimbabwe has endured months of political tensions after disputed presidential elections in March involving the incumbent Robert Mugabe and the opposition figure Morgan Tsvangirai. A power-sharing deal on the formation of a new government was reached on 15 September with the help of regional leaders, but outstanding issues remain, jeopardizing the deal’s implementation.
At the weekend, the Elders – comprising former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, former United States president Jimmy Carter and former Mozambican first lady Graça Machel – were refused entry to Zimbabwe to assess the latest humanitarian situation there.
Mr. Ban said in the statement that he supports the Elders’ initiative and regrets the decision of the Government “not to cooperate with their timely, well-intended effort to assist the people of Zimbabwe.” He added that he hoped another mission can take place soon, given how rapidly the situation is deteriorating.
The statement stressed the need for the Zimbabwean parties meeting today in South Africa to reach agreement on a new government in line with the 15 September deal.
“The people of Zimbabwe cannot afford another failure by their political leadership to reach a fair and workable agreement that would allow Zimbabwe to tackle the formidable challenges ahead,” Mr. Ban said.
OCHA is also concerned that Zimbabwe’s cholera outbreak is spreading into other Southern African countries: suspected cases have been reported in both Botswana and South Africa.
The UN World Health Organization (WHO) is working with officials in Angola, South Africa and Mozambique to try to prevent the outbreak from crossing their borders, but its biggest concern remains the Zimbabwean capital, Harare, where most of the cases have been reported.
Cholera is an acute intestinal infection caused by contaminated food or water, and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has called on the Government to immediately tackle the country’s water, sanitation and sewer infrastructure problems to halt the spread.