Zimbabwe has declared a state of emergency in its capital, Harare, as a cholera outbreak has spread across all 10 provinces. Harare, particularly the high-density suburb of Kuwadzana, is the most severely affected area. There have been at least 12 reported fatalities.
Cholera has been a recurring issue in cities across Zimbabwe largely due to a crumbling infrastructure. Unreliable water supplies and poor sanitation facilities have caused the bacterium to transmit at an alarming rate.
The crisis has been ongoing for months, resulting in the loss of 136 lives and over 7,000 reported cases. In October, the government banned large gatherings in parts of the country.
This situation echoes the cholera epidemic of 2008, which resulted in the deaths of at least 4,000 people. The government declared a state of emergency before, more recently in 2019.
Cholera cases, after a decade of steady decline, have been on the rise since 2021, according to the United Nations. Emphasising the severity of the situation, Harare May Ian Makone told AFP, "We have declared a state of emergency because the situation is now very bad.”
When contaminated water is drunk, the infection can cause severe diarrhoea and can even be fatal. It can also be transmitted by eating food that’s been in unclean water or handled by an infected person. Treatment relatively inexpensive, requiring an oral rehydration solution to replace the fluids and salts lost to diarrhoea and vomiting.
Groundwater from safe boreholes that 38% of the population have relied on is limited due to drought. In cities like Harare and Bulawayo, people go months without running water, resorting to digging their own wells which are contaminated by raw sewage.
To mitigate the spread, citizens have been advised to avoid street vendors, open-air marketplaces, and outdoor church camps. Funeral attendance has been limited to 50 people, with a ban on serving food at gatherings.
The International Federation of Red Cross And Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has warned that more than 10 million people are at risk.
“The numbers are rising at an accelerating pace and can be expected to cause cross-border transmissions,” the humanitarian network said.
Neighbouring African countries South Africa, Malawi and Mozambique have also reported repeated outbreaks.
In response to the crisis, the IFRC has launched an emergency appeal for 3 million Swiss Francs to support the Zimbabwe Red Cross Society (ZRCS), stating that immediate action is essential, given the inadequacy of the healthcare system to cope with the situation. The Emergency Appeal aims to control the spread of the outbreak and improve water and sanitation facilities. Efforts also include increasing awareness of water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) practices.
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