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Humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe deepening, aid agencies say

Associated Press / December 28, 2008
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HARARE, Zimbabwe - International aid agencies warned yesterday that Zimbabwe's humanitarian crisis is deepening, with a sharp rise in acute child malnutrition and a worsening cholera epidemic.

President Robert Mugabe's government has acknowledged the collapse of Zimbabwe's health system, but he also contended earlier this month that the epidemic had been brought under control and that there was "no cholera" in the country.

The country is struggling desperately with a long-term economic crisis and has been paralyzed by a political crisis over a so-far unsuccessful attempt at power-sharing. International observers have raised concerns about the increasing clampdown on opposition to Mugabe, who is under severe pressure to step down or solve the political impasse over the allocation of Cabinet posts.

Jestina Mukoko, a Prominent Zimbabwean peace activist, is one of a group of activists detained for allegedly plotting to overthrow Mugabe. She had been missing for three weeks before she appeared in court. The plot has been widely dismissed as fabricated.

Although a judge ruled Wednesday that Mukoko and six others be taken to a hospital so allegations of torture could be investigated, they remain in custody while the government appeals that decision, state media reported yesterday.

Charging Mukoko, the respected head of a group known as the Zimbabwe Peace Project, is a sign that the 84-year-old leader is not prepared to yield after nearly three decades in power.

Critics blame Mugabe's land reform policies for the collapse of Zimbabwe's farming sector. Zimbabweans continue to die of hunger and disease. Acute child malnutrition in parts of Zimbabwe has increased by almost two-thirds compared with last year, the aid agency Save the Children said in a new report yesterday.

Lynn Walker, the UK-based agency's Zimbabwe director, said "some children are wasting away from lack of food." The report said 18,000 tons of food are needed for January. About 5 million people, half Zimbabwe's population, are in need of food aid.

Cholera has spread rapidly in the southern African nation. The World Health Organization said yesterday that 1,518 people have died of cholera and 26,497 cases have been recorded since the start of the outbreak in August.

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