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Zimbabwe Awaits US$500 Million Aid Infusion to End Cholera Epidemic

The United Nations inter-agency humanitarian mission that concluded its work in Zimbabwe this week has called for Harare and the international community to bolster efforts to end a relentless cholera epidemic and stave off hunger threatening much of the population.

The team said water and sewage systems need to be urgently repaired, while relief efforts must expand public outreach down to the local level across the country.

Mission chief Catherine Bragg, U.N. assistant secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and deputy emergency relief coordinator, reiterated her appeal in a news conference Thursday in Johannesburg after summarizing her team's assessment Wednesday in Harare.

The World Health Organization meanwhile reported five more deaths from cholera through Wednesday, bringing the total number of deaths from the epidemic to 3,879.

Bragg said U.N. agencies were well on their way to assemble US$500 million in relief aid, but non-governmental organizations in the country said this was too little too late.

Spokesman Fambai Ngirande of the National Association of Non-Governmental Organizations told reporter Patience Rusere of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that conditions in Zimbabwe have deteriorated so much that humanitarian aid is not enough. He said that a capable and committed government needs to take determined action to turn the country around.

Elsewhere, the World Food Program said it is facing a funding shortfall of US$140 million in its emergency food distribution program for Zimbabwe.

Organization spokeswoman Claudia Altorio told reporter Brenda Moyo that it is too early to predict the outcome of the 2009 harvest, but given the lack of inputs such as seed and fertilizer the agency is planning to keep providing food assistance up to 2010.

The crisis has been particularly devastating for Zimbabweans living with HIV/AIDS who are vulnerable to opportunistic infections to which cholera has now been added.

Many of them still lack access to the antiretroviral drugs that the government introduced five years ago and the months-long shutdown of government hospitals since the end of last year deprived them of medical support, as Sylvia Manika reported from Harare.

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