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New Cholera Outbreaks Signal Danger Of Widening Zimbabwe Epidemic

Under pressure to widen access by international humanitarian aid providers, but fending off a United Nations special envoy, the government of Zimbabwe with foreign and local agencies is launching a US$19 million plan to end a persistent and deadly cholera epidemic.

The World Health Organization said 1,111 people have died as the communicable disease has spread - the count surged by 133 deaths in the past two days. More than 20,500 cases have been reported since August, WHO officials announced.

The agency today reported a new outbreak in the Chegutu Urban constituency west of the capital, where some 378 suspected cases and 121 deaths have been recorded.

The state-run Herald newspaper reported Thursday that the Ministry of Health in cooperation with the World Health Organization, the United Nations Children's Fund or UNICEF, aid provider World Vision and others have rolled out the plan in place to “mount a predictable and coordinated response” to the epidemic which has been expanding for weeks.

British aid charity Oxfam launched an appeal for four million pounds (US$6.2 million) at the same time to help victims of the epidemic. Oxfam said it will provide clean water, sanitation and food to over one million people, calling for donations to scale up the effort.

"The rapid deterioration of the situation in Zimbabwe makes this an extremely grave humanitarian crisis which could deteriorate even further in 2009," Oxfam Humanitarian Director Jane Cocking told the Agence France Presse news agency.

"We need to respond now, there is no time to lose," Cocking added.

For perspective on the cholera scourge which is causing so much suffering, reporter Patience Rusere of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe turned to Fambai Ngirande, spokesman for the National Association of Non-governmental Organizations, and Global Cholera Coordinator Claire-Lise Chaignat of the World Health Organization.

Ngirande said things are getting worse, and many people are quietly dying in their homes.

Ordinary Zimbabweans voiced distress at the ongoing epidemic and loss of life.

Leonard Muzanenhamo of Kadoma, Mashonaland West province, said he thinks authorities are playing down the severity of the epidemic, noting that pauper burials are on the rise.

A resident of the Borrowdale district of Harare who gave his name as Shumbainesu said the cholera epidemic is continuing because sewage pipes which burst a long time ago have not been repaired and public authorities are not collecting waste.

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