Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Update from Zimbabwe: A disaster that keeps getting worse

We're way past the point of any good, or even encouraging, news coming out of Zimbabwe. The only question one asks when stories come across with Harare in the dateline is: How much worse is it now?

The answer today is: Lots.

The cholera epidemic has taken hold, with the official death toll now approaching 600. Unofficially, the number is MUCH higher. The total collapse of Zimbabwe's health-care and communications systems means there is no way to really count the number of sick, dying, and dead.

The rainy summer has started and will continue through Feb. Malaria will appear. Cholera will spread faster. The population, already weakened by lack of food and medicine, will become more susceptible to both. The ruined economy, ultra-hyper inflation, and 80% unemployment rate ensure the general population has no hope of escaping the despair or obtaining help. Mugabe's "government" continues to see invading foreign troops behind every tree, and will never open the country up for the kind of international humanitarian aid which would have any hope of averting catastrophe. Mugabe himself will continue to stall and stymie regional and international efforts to get him out of power, or to even share some power, and the situation will not change, except to get worse.

We are witnessing the death of a nation, one conceived less than 30 years ago amidst high expectations, higher hopes, and positive initial results. Looking back to the early 80s, although there were rumors of atrocities in Matabeleland, the average Zimbabwean, white or black, enjoyed a thriving economy, plenty to eat, international goodwill, and a seemingly brilliant future. Now, disaster is upon us, and the only questions are how many will die and how long will it take for them to die.

What can we do about it? Not much. Give to Oxfam and the Red Cross. Pray. If you're ambitious, you might write a note to Kgalema Motlanthe or Levy Patrick Mwanawasa. Write your representative. Suggest to Sir Bob the Knob or Bono the Dog Biscuit they get Band Aid back together. The West isn't going to fix this one. I'm not sure anyone is.

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