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Zimbabwe Declares National Cholera Emergency

The state-owned Herald newspaper says the Zimbabwe government is seeking international assistance and has declared a state of emergency about its cholera outbreak. The United Nations says the outbreak has claimed 565 lives and caused illness in 12,500. The announcement comes as sporadic demonstrations continue to grip parts of the capital Harare, resulting in a number of arrests, mainly in the capital.

The Herald reports the Zimbabwe government wants emergency international help and has declared a national emergency over cholera and the failing health system. The newspaper quotes Health Minister David Parirenyatwa as telling a meeting of aid groups that Zimbabwe needs help to reduce deaths and to revive the health system.

Parirenyatwa says hospitals are "literally not functioning" and demotivated staff are not reporting for duty. He listed numerous basic items no longer available in hospitals, such as drugs, food, equipment, laundry equipment, X-ray films and boilers.

Parirenyatwa is asking for $1.5 million a month, for incentives to health workers. He says donors have already granted $7 million, beginning in January, but says the government needs an additional $11 million, immediately.

The Zimbabwe government is also seeking nearly $4 million to purchase water purification chemicals for the next two months. The state-run water company was forced to cut water to Harare for 48 hours, after it ran out of aluminum sulphate, used to purify water.

Earlier this week, South Africa announced the Limpopo River, on its northern border with Zimbabwe, tested positive for cholera at points where Zimbabweans are known to cross illegally into South Africa, forcing people to dig shallow wells and sparking a trade in water-selling.

One Zimbabwean, who preferred not to give his name, who crossed into the country says the situation is critical in southeastern Zimbabwe and reports many deaths in one regional hospital at Chiredzi.

"People are dying every day. Especially in Chiredzi, hospital in Chiredzi," he said. "The day we departed, there were about 362 people reported to be dead because of cholera. In one hospital, in one provincial hospital. It is very critical."

These developments come as spontaneous protests, fueled by anger and frustration about the worsening cholera outbreak and the rapid decline in the economy, continue to erupt sporadically in the country, especially in Harare.

Several protests have involved soldiers who have been unable to draw money from banks and who are hungry because they are not receiving meals in their barracks. And, police have broken up demonstrations organized by trade unions and health workers and thrown uniformed soldiers off buses headed into town.

Three journalists covering these events were arrested. Police have also targeted activists, arresting six. One human rights activist, Jestina Mukoko, was abducted from her home, 30 kilometers north of Harare, at dawn Wednesday. Amnesty International reported that her abductors, a group of about 15 men, identified themselves as policemen.

The Zimbabwe central bank announced it had issued a $100 million note, up from $10 million, but is now restricting each customer to two withdrawals per week. Even so, long lines continue to form each day as customers try to access their funds from banks.