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Zimbabwe's Cholera Epidemic

Condoleezza Rice is expected to urge southern African countries at the U.N. this week to increase pressure on Mugabe. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is the VOA Special English Development Report.

American officials say Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will join talks on Zimbabwe this week at the United Nations. The State Department says the Security Council has failed to take meaningful action to end the country's political and health crisis. Zimbabwe faces a cholera outbreak that also threatens its neighbors. Many Zimbabweans have crossed the border into South Africa for treatment.

Secretary Rice is expected to try to increase pressure on President Robert Mugabe. Her spokesman Sean McCormack said last week that the United States wants to start a process that will bring an end to the tragedy in Zimbabwe. And he said southern African countries, especially, need to do more.

The United Nations estimated that as of last week almost seventeen thousand people were infected with cholera. Aid groups reported almost eight hundred deaths.

The outbreak grew from a lack of water-treatment chemicals and from broken sewage pipes. Many people are using unprotected wells for drinking water.

Cholera is a bacterial infection generally spread through water or food. It causes vomiting and diarrhea. In severe cases, people can die from a loss of fluids within hours unless they are treated.

Cholera is easily treated with oral rehydration salts or intravenous fluids. But Zimbabwe's health system has collapsed.

The outbreak began in August. On December fourth the government declared a national emergency and appealed for international aid.

But President Mugabe has dismissed international calls to resign. He says the West wants to use the crisis as an excuse to invade Zimbabwe. He said last week that the epidemic is under control. But on Friday U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon disagreed, based on reports from the World Health Organization and other agencies.

The U.N. chief urged President Mugabe to honor a power-sharing deal with the opposition -- and to "look to the future of his country." He said the people of Zimbabwe have suffered too much and too long.

The United Nations has been supplying clean water to treatment centers in Harare. And the International Red Cross has been preparing to provide more water and other supplies. Aid groups have warned that as many as sixty thousand people could become infected unless the outbreak is controlled.

And that's the VOA Special English Development Report, written by Jerilyn Watson. I'm Steve Ember.