An international aid group working in Zimbabwe is warning that the humanitarian crisis in the country is deteriorating rapidly.  The group is urging the Zimbabwean government to ease restrictions on humanitarian operations and asks donor groups to separate their aid from their policies toward the Zimbabwean government.

The emergency aid group Doctors Without Borders says the cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe has become a massive medical emergency that is spiraling out of control.

The head of the group in Zimbabwe, Dr. Manuel Lopez, told reporters in Johannesburg that the diarrhea-like disease, which has infected more than 70,000 people and killed 3,500 in Zimbabwe, is still peaking.

"We have seen the highest number of cases during the last week of January and the first week of February," said Dr. Lopez.  "And we see that every now and then we have new explosions of cases in places where the water system is contaminated."

The international president of Doctors Without Borders, Dr. Christophe Fournier, said the outbreak of the easily prevented and easily treated disease is due to the collapse of water and sanitation systems in the country.  He calls it is the most visible sign of a much broader crisis.

"The whole public health system in Zimbabwe is down and has collapsed. And you can imagine what kind of consequences it can have when the vast majority of the population cannot access anymore any kind of health care facility," said Dr. Fournier.

Relief officials say they are not given access to all parts of the country and some of these restrictions appear to be aimed at opposition areas.  They appealed to the Zimbabwean government to allow them unrestricted access to all the people.

Dr. Fournier also appealed to the international community for a major infusion of aid.

"We are calling for an emergency strategy to all the international community, and second, to distinguish the emergency of this humanitarian aid for Zimbabweans today from any kind of broader political objective," he said.

Western governments have imposed sanctions on the Zimbabwean government because of authoritarianism and human-rights abuses.  The government blames the sanctions for years of economic decline.

The Zimbabwean economy is reeling under hyper-inflation, 80 percent unemployment and the collapse of many government services.  More than half of the population depends on food aid to survive.

The crisis has caused an estimated three million people to flee the country in what Doctors Without Borders officials call the most extraordinary human exodus from a country not in open war.