Video: Zimbabwe's cholera death toll rises | World news | guardian.co.uk Zimbabwe declares state of emergency over cholera epidemic • Disease has hit 6,000 and killed more than 500 • Hundreds seek treatment in South Africa Angela Balakrishnan guardian.co.uk, Thursday December 4 2008 09.40 GMT The UN is providing 40,000 litres of clean water a week in Harare to help halt the spread of cholera Link to this video Zimbabwe has declared a national emergency over the cholera epidemic that has forced hundreds to flee the country and paralysed basic services, pushing the country to the point of collapse. The Herald, a state-run newspaper, says the declaration came after a meeting of government and international aid officials in Harare yesterday. It follows an appeal by the health minister David Parirenyatwa to aid agencies for drugs, food, equipment and money to pay doctors and nurses at hospitals, after a breakdown in the health system. "Our staff is demotivated and we need your support to ensure that they start coming to work and our health system is revived," he was quoted as saying. Yesterday riot police were called into the capital, Harare, to break up a protest march by doctors and nurses angered at the worsening outbreak. Parirenyatwa was also quoted as saying Zimbabwe's main hospitals "are literally not functioning". The deputy water minister Walter Mzembi says his ministry has only enough chemicals to treat water for another 12 weeks. Authorities had previously said the cholera outbreak was under control. But now cases have been reported in nine of the country's 10 provinces. Fatality rates are well above the international emergency rate of 1% due to a lack of drugs and medical assistance. Chris McGreal: 'People are being infected at the rate of a thousand a day' Link to this audio About 6,000 people have contracted the disease in recent weeks due to lack of water treatment and broken sewage pipes in a country that once had a sophisticated infrastructure. The United Nations say the outbreak has killed more than 550 people, but medical charities say the real toll is at least double. One-third of the deaths were in Harare where water has been cut off for days because of a lack of chemicals to treat the supply. Hundreds of civilians have fled to South Africa to seek treatment. The European Commission said yesterday it was providing more than $12 million for drugs and clean water while the International Red Cross was also releasing more funds to deal with the cholera. "We need to pool our resources together and see how best we can respond to this emergency," Agostinho Zacarias, the UN development programme director in Zimbabwe said in the Herald. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said it is very keen to help after Parirenyatwa's appeal. The declaration of emergency comes a week after South Africa's caretaker president, Kgalema Motlanthe, said that the crisis was an "urgent matter". He added that the root cause - the absence of a legitimate government - needed to be solved in order to tackle the epidemic. The country has been locked in political stalemate since presidential elections in March when Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change, defeated the president Robert Mugabe in the first round of voting. Tsvangirai pulled out of the June run-off, however, due to violence and intimidation of his supporters, allowing Mugabe to claim victory. Attempts to agree a power-sharing arrangement have floundered as Mugabe insisted on keeping most of the ministries for his Zanu-PF party. In the meantime, the economy has disintegrated and the health system is close to breakdown. The country is suffering from the world's highest inflation and Zimbabweans face daily shortages of food and other basic goods. Four big hospitals, including two in Harare, have effectively closed their doors to new patients owing to a shortage of basic supplies and running water. Even women needing caesarean sections are being turned away. South Africa has already threatened to withhold £18m in food aid to Zimbabwe unless a political solution is found. The WHO is encouraging neighbouring communities to protect themselves from fleeing Zimbabweans by strengthening their surveillance, healthcare and response systems.