Cholera crisis spills across border
Mugabe says there is no cholera in Zimbabwe as S Africa declares border region "disaster area".
Last Modified: 11 Dec 2008 12:09 GMT
Many Zimbabweans have fled over the border with South Africa to escape the epidemic [AFP]

South African officials have declared their border region with Zimbabwe a disaster area, due to the high number of people crossing into South Africa to escape a cholera epidemic.

A provincial government spokesman made the announcement on Thursday, with the disease having spread across the border and claimed 800 lives in Zimbabwe since August.

"The provincial government took a decision that the whole of the Vhembe district should be declared a disaster area," Mogale Nchabeleng, the northern Limpopo provincial government spokesman, said.

He said that the disaster status would free up funding and focus relief efforts in the district which includes the South African and Zimbabwean border towns Musina and Beitbridge and the 24-hour border crossing.

"It helps to cut on government bureaucracy and speed up the pace of the response.

"Extraordinary measures are needed to deal with the situation."

The provincial government made the decision after an emergency meeting earlier in the week.

Many Zimbabwean's have fled destitution in their home country to seek food and health care in South Africa.

Fear of arrest

Some of those fleeing do not want to approach authorities in South Africa for fear of being returned home or incarcerated - making the treatment and containment of the disease more difficult.

Farid Abul Kadir, the South African disaster management co-ordinator with the International Red Cross, told Al Jazeera: "Extraordinary measures includes upscaling on social mobilisation, educating the public in prevention measures, purification of water, beefing up security personnel, and equipment and medical supplies.

"It looks at resources within the government system and of course with support from international organisations.

"The [South African] government has put systems in place including health personnel and [health] messages the Red Cross has been able to provide ... so whoever is in the side of South African is being provided with the knowledge and also the cholera cases are being handled by the healthy ministry system that has been set in place."

Mugabe's statement

Despite the growing international concern, Robert Mugabe, the Zimbabwean president, said in a nationwide televised speech on Thursday that "there is no cholera" in the country.

"I am happy to say our doctors have been assisted by others and the WHO ... so now that there is no cholera," he said.

He said that Western powers were using the disease as an excuse for intervention.

"There is no cause for war any more.

"The cholera cause doesn't exist any more."

'Situation pathetic'

The World Health Organisation has said that 774 people have died from the disease in Zimbabwe, with at least 15,000 more infected.

Peter Muturedzanwa, an aid worker for Oxfam, in Harare, the Zimbabwean capital, said: "With the current food crisis, the cholera impact is going to cause a lot of suffering for Zimbabweans.

"The rains are not promising to come, cholera is increasing, there is no food in shops. The situation is pathetic."

He said it is difficult where the government was basing its claims on considering that most of the country's hospitals and clinics were not operating.

Al Jazeera and agencies
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