The official death toll from the cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe has climbed to nearly 500, according to the World Health Organization. But doctors on the ground say the actual fatalities may be closer to 1,000, with more than 12,000 infected since the start of the outbreak in August. Severe shortages of clean water, food, and medicine have allowed the normally treatable illness to ravage the country. Poorer areas have been without running water for months and just this week, the government cut off water to the nation’s capital, Harare. “The country is reaching a catastrophic level, in terms of food, health delivery, education,” said Morgan Tsvangirai, the MDC [opposition party] leader. “Everything seems to be collapsing around us” [Times Online].
Authorities say they have run out of water-purifying chemicals and have therefore shut down the water system in an attempt to contain the waterborne disease. But without running water, sanitation systems are nonexistent and sewage lies in the open air. “Proper hygiene is the best protection against cholera and you can’t do that without clean water,” [BBC News] said Marcus Bachmann of Doctors Without Borders. Residents have resorted to digging shallow wells and using contaminated water despite the government’s warning to use only boiled water. “We are afraid but there is no solution, most of the time the electricity is not available so we just use the water,” resident Naison Chakwicha said [USA Today]. The Health Minister has even asked residents to stop shaking hands. “Although it’s part of our tradition to shake hands, it’s high time people stopped,” he said [CNN].