UN launches $718 million Zimbabwe aid appeal

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HARARE, Zimbabwe — Zimbabwe’s humanitarian situation has deteriorated sharply since the end of last year, U.N. agencies said Monday as they called for more aid for the troubled southern African country.

HARARE, Zimbabwe — Zimbabwe’s humanitarian situation has deteriorated sharply since the end of last year, U.N. agencies said Monday as they called for more aid for the troubled southern African country. In a joint statement, the agencies appealed for $718 million for 2009 to provide food, clean water, AIDS medicines and other aid — up from an estimate of $550 million in November. They said donor response has been "below average," with just $246 million provided by May 26. Basic social services have collapsed amid economic crisis and political violence. A cholera outbreak that has killed more than 4,200 people since August and increased hunger have worsened an already critical situation, the agencies said. Humanitarian aid contained the cholera outbreak and helped — "despite enormous operational difficulties" — in improving health, education and water services, the statement said. But "the country’s humanitarian needs remain staggering," it said. "The magnitude of the economic decline and erosion of sources of livelihood is such that it is unlikely the humanitarian needs will lessen in the short term." The creation of a coalition government in February caused cautious optimism, but the confidence of donors and Western countries will only be restored by a return to the rule of law and greater attention to human rights, the U.N. agencies said. The unity government has been plagued by disputes over power sharing. The U.N. agencies said appeals by the new government for up to $8 billion for immediate economic help, separate from humanitarian aid, have so far brought only $400 million pledged in credit lines since April. Six million people, more than half the population, have limited or no access to clean water, 5.1 million will still need food aid this year, 1.3 million people live with AIDS or the virus that causes it, including 133,000 children under the age of 14, the statement said. The agencies said there were more than 1.5 million orphaned and vulnerable children and 100,000 households headed by children, and another 600,000 families will need seeds and other farming supplies they cannot afford themselves. ______ Copyright 2009 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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