In a time of cholera


The death toll from cholera in Zimbabwe is the result of governmental failures, writes Bridget Fitzsimons.

IN A WORLD where conflict is commonplace, it is especially unsettling to witness a case like that which we see in Zimbabwe. A post-colonial nation, it is struggling to survive under the stranglehold of a dictator, who is now denying the reality of a cholera epidemic that is ravaging the country.

In 1888, Zimbabwe became a British colony and it wasn’t until 1965 that its people declared independence. A bloody civil war followed, which ended in 1979. In February of 1980, Robert Mugabe and his Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) party came into power in Zimbabwe. History proves that this was not the successful rebirth of the nation that its people had hoped for.

Zimbabwe is in severe economic and social decline. Mugabe’s reign has seen white farmers being forcibly removed from their lands, violent public outbursts, allegations of election rigging and the oppression of the opposition party, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), lead by Morgan Tsvagirai. Despite recently opting to enter into a power sharing government with Tsvasgirai, the scars of Mugabe’s mistakes still devastate the population.

Disease has also become a huge issue for Zimbabweans. In 1997, it was estimated that a quarter of the population of Zimbabwe had become infected with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), with no education programmes being put in place to reduce the transmission of the disease.

In recent months, cholera has also swept Zimbabwe with the mortality rate rising above 3000 as a result, although Mugabe tried to cover this up from the international community. He has since declared it a national emergency and is now requesting international aid.

“Mugabe’s regime simply does not have the funds to strengthen the country’s water and sanitation system”

The gastrointestinal disease is spread though contaminated food and water, and causes severe diarrhoea resulting in rapid and potentially fatal dehydration. In Zimbabwe, it seems that the disease has spread so quickly from the lack of clean water available. Mugabe’s regime simply does not have the funds to strengthen the country’s water and sanitation system.

The government is currently in the throes of a financial crisis that Mugabe blames on the financial isolation imposed on him by several members of the United Nations (UN). The United States is prohibited from financially helping Zimbabwe under an agreement called the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act of 2001 (ZDERA).

There is hyperinflation as well as a hard currency shortage, which means that citizens are finding it hard to even feed themselves. The government continues to blame the international community instead of actually making a real effort to save the lives of its people.

It seems that public image is everything to the Zimbabwean government. At the expense of human life, the epidemic was denied in an effort to save face within the international community. It was not until the situation became completely unmanageable that the government asked for help.

In a country where there is a hard currency shortage and HIV is at a very high level, it seems that now is the time for Zimbabwe to integrate itself in the international community, instead of alienating itself. There is virtually no sanitation education available for citizens of Zimbabwe, so cholera will continue to spread and kill more and more people.

The forecast for Zimbabwe is currently bleak. ZANU, it appears, will continue to stay in power and dominate their power-sharing government with the opposition. It is now up to Mugabe and he alone to solve the unveiling health crisis in his country, and if his past conduct is anything to go by, this does not bode well for Zimbabwe’s people.