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 CNS Story:

ZIMBABWE-DIE Nov-27-2006 (430 words) xxxi

Archbishop: Thousands of Zimbabweans starve, die weekly from disease

By Simon Caldwell
Catholic News Service

LONDON (CNS) -- More people are dying from starvation and disease in Zimbabwe under President Robert Mugabe than are killed in the war in Iraq or the conflict in Darfur, said an African archbishop.

Archbishop Pius Ncube of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, said about 3,500 people are dying each week in his country from a "unique convergence of malnutrition, poverty and AIDS." He said the world has forgotten about the plight of Zimbabweans although "hunger, illness and desperation stalk our land."

"Cemeteries are filling up throughout the country, but no blood is being spilt," he told a private meeting of politicians and church leaders in London Nov. 22. "People are just fading away, dying quietly and being buried quietly with no fanfare, and so there is little media attention."

As many people die prematurely in Zimbabwe in one week as in one month in Iraq when the violence is at its worst, he said. In October, 3,700 people died in Iraq.

The mortality rate in Zimbabwe is also a thousand per week higher than the Darfur region of western Sudan, where a genocidal campaign by government-backed militias against local tribes has claimed an average of 2,500 lives a week since 2003.

Archbishop Ncube said World Health Organization figures reveal that life expectancy in Zimbabwe is the lowest in the world -- 34 years for women and 37 years for men.

The U.N. World Food Program estimates that 6.1 million Zimbabweans, about half of the 12 million population, face starvation.

The archbishop said Zimbabwe's unemployment rate is 80 percent, and the country has the fastest-declining economy in the world.

Archbishop Ncube, who was in London to raise funds for an AIDS charity, blamed the crisis on the mismanagement of the country under Mugabe over the last seven years.

"Zimbabwe is not a nation at war," Archbishop Ncube said. "It used to be able to feed itself and its neighbors. Zimbabwe used to have one of the highest life-expectancy rates in Africa.

"And these figures cannot just be blamed on AIDS," he added.

He said the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front government, or Zanu-PF, was not investing in medicine to treat AIDS because it was "more interested in importing military aircraft from China than protecting (the) lives of its people."

"We remain in the grip of a dictator. ... We cannot compete for attention in a world fixated by events in Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Sudan and elsewhere. Yet we need the international community to maintain pressure on Zanu-PF now as much as ever before," he said.

END


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