A severe outbreak of cholera and ongoing food shortages put millions of lives at risk across Zimbabwe and southern Africa. Thanks to the generosity of the public, our appeal raised £369,000.
In Zimbabwe alone, cholera claimed more than 4,000 lives and the total number of cases was more than 87,900. That far surpassed the original worst-case scenario. Cholera also affected people in Angola, Mozambique and South Africa.
In addition, Zimbabwe, along with other countries in the region, struggles to cope with the effects of HIV and AIDS. People living with HIV are particularly vulnerable to the risk of cholera.
Although cholera is an easy disease to prevent and treat, it can also be deadly. You can lose 10 per cent of the water in your body every hour. Within six hours you're chronically dehydrated and within a day you can die.
But prevention is not difficult and is based on basic hygiene such as washing your hands after using the bathroom. It was vital that we reached as many communities as possible with the messages on how to prevent cholera – especially because it is a cyclical problem which could easily flare up again when the next rains arrive.
Having enough food is also a critical part of the survival equation in Zimbabwe. There was insufficient food due to poor harvest, and lack of imported food due to escalating global prices and skyrocketing inflation in Zimbabwe.
Food aid was therefore critical to help meet the gap in food available nationally and to help those who do not have enough resources to purchase food available in the shops.
Money from the appeal was used to support community-based health, water, sanitation and hygiene projects, and to deliver aid and education to those most in need across the region.
The cholera situation improved, thanks to the end of the rainy season and the emergency response work of a number of organisations, including the Red Cross. However, there is still a very clear need to promote good hygiene and the situation will not be fully resolved until large-scale water supply and sewage infrastructure repair projects are completed.
How we helped
The Red Cross was on the ground in Zimbabwe from the beginning of the cholera epidemic. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, together with the Zimbabwe Red Cross Society, provided safe drinking water and sanitation, promoted hygiene messages and distributed essential relief items and supplies.
The Red Cross also responded to the food crisis, assisting particularly vulnerable people, such as those living with HIV, with food distributions. Through its community home-based care programmes across the country, the Red Cross continues to support people living with HIV, who are particularly susceptible to diseases such as cholera.
Thousands of people were reached with cholera prevention messages, stressing the importance of hand washing, boiling drinking water and cooking food thoroughly.
Red Cross volunteers distributed blankets, jerry cans, bars of soap and latrines, along with water purification tablets. Cholera kits containing oral re-hydration solution, antibiotics, needles and gloves, were also distributed.
As part of a long-term development project, the British Red Cross and the European Union have co-funded the drilling of 70 new boreholes, and the repair of 130 hand pumps and 400 latrines, serving 100,000 people, in the Mount Darwin district of Zimbabwe.
Emergency response units
For four months, the British Red Cross provided support through its sanitation emergency response unit (ERU), which specialises in improving sanitation and promoting better hygiene practices. The British ERU was one of seven specialist teams from around the world, which were deployed to Zimbabwe by the Federation. The other Red Cross teams included basic healthcare as well as further water and sanitation support.
Activities carried out by these teams included producing thousands of litres of safe drinking water and training local Red Cross staff and volunteers in the construction and maintenance of water treatment facilities.
The British Red Cross ERU handed over its equipment to local Red Cross teams that were trained to respond to new cholera outbreaks.
More about water and sanitation in emergencies