Funds shortage puts Zimbabwe’s cholera relief in jeopardy

January 23rd, 2009 - 9:41 pm ICT by IANS  

Johannesburg, Jan 23 (DPA) As the death toll from Zimbabwe’s cholera outbreak inches towards 3,000, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) Friday issued a desperate appeal for funding to keep its relief operations afloat.The Red Cross is leading the non-governmental response to the cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe.

Its work, which includes rehabilitating the old and setting up new water supply, sanitation and cholera treatment systems, is critical to attempts to check the spread of the waterborne, diarrhoea-related disease.

The scale of the operation is unprecedented in Red Cross terms - bigger, in terms of the number of emergency health units deployed than its response to the Myanmar cyclone last year. But the organisation could have to suspend within a month if it doesn’t receive new funds.

“As it stands now, we won’t be able to continue our operations beyond the next four weeks,” Tony Maryon, head of the IFRC’s team in Zimbabwe, said in a statement.

In December, the Geneva-based organisation appealed for 10.2 million Swiss francs ($9.2 million) in funding for the Zimbabwe cholera emergency. To date donors have only stumped up 40 percent.

In the meantime cholera continues to spread. The number of dead rose 20 percent over the past week to 2,755. In total, 48,000 people are infected with the disease.

“Because of the severity of this outbreak, we fear that it will take many more weeks to get it under control,” said Maryon.

The Zimbabwe Red Cross has deployed 1,000 volunteers across the country. A key component of their work is sensitising ordinary people to the risk of infection and giving them the basic tools, like water purification tablets, to protect themselves.

“Because of the breakdown in the information infrastructure, people don’t know why people are dying,” said Matthew Cochrane, the IFRC’s southern Africa spokesman.

Cochrane cited the example of one area, where fishermen were burying their cholera dead along the banks of the lake where they fish, completely unaware they risked contaminating the water and putting further lives at risk.

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