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Zimbabwe Cholera Crisis Mounts As Harare Water System Shut Down

Zimbabwe appeared Monday to be spiraling into a complex humanitarian emergency with cholera spreading nationwide with the death toll mounting into the hundreds, the public water system in Harare shut off for fear of contaminated water spreading cholera even further, and soldiers rioting in the capital over restrictions on cash withdrawals from banks.

"The country is reaching a catastrophic level in terms of food, health deliver, education," said Morgan Tsvangirai, founder of the Movement for Democratic Change and slated to become prime minister in the proposed unity government in the works since Sept. 15. "Everything seems to be collapsing around us," AFP reported Tsvangirai as saying.

The state-controlled Herald newspaper said the Zimbabwe National Water Authority cut off water to Harare because it ran out of a chemical needed to purify drinking water.

The rainy season is now upon Zimbabwe and authorities fear that human feces deposited in open spaces along the Mukuvisi River will be carried into the public water supply, potentially contaminating it with the bacteria that causes cholera, infecting thousands more.

Medical sources estimate that as many as 10,000 people have contracted the disease and the death toll, set by Harare at 425 on the weekend, is believed to be much higher as it is thought that many deaths have occurred in homes and not been recorded.

Elsewhere, the British humanitarian organization Save The Children said two children and one adult in the Zambezi valley had died of anthrax. It said people are so hungry they are eating the meat of dead animals though such meat is probably infected with the disease.

Anthrax usually only afflicts animals, but can be transmitted to humans who handle or eat the meat of the infected animals. The group said 60,000 head of livestock were at risk.

Harare has asked for international aid while blaming the crisis on Western targeted sanctions.

Meanwhile, eyewitnesses told VOA that police and soldiers fought running battles in Harare's city center after the troops ran amok in a repitition of disturbances Friday. The solders were said to be angered over their inability to withdraw more than Z$500,000 from their bank accounts, a sum which is barely enough for bus fare into Harare and home.

VOA's Peta Thornycroft reported on one of the victims of the cholera epidemic, a civil rights activist who previously had survived many arrests on the streets of Harare.

For an update on the cholera epidemic, reporter Patience Rusere of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe turned to Dr. Douglas Gwatidzo, chairman of the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights, who said the official estimate of 425 deaths is too optimistic.

VOA reporter James Butty spoke with Health Minister David Parirenyatwa, who said that the country’s political and economic crisis must be resolved to address the health crisis.

The attention of many Zimbabweans was turned to the cholera crisis rather than World AIDS Day though observances were held in Bindura, Mashonaland West province.

President Robert Mugabe addressed the nation on the subject of HIV/AIDS Sunday evening in a pre-recorded address, and Dr. Henry Madzorera, health secretary of the MDC grouping led by Tsvangirai, responded, as correspondent Irwin Chifera reported.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...