By Angus Shaw
Sunday, July 29, 2007
HARARE, Zimbabwe, July 28 -- President Robert Mugabe has promised to print more money to fund municipal projects, a government newspaper reported Saturday. The pledge came despite hyperinflation that has created severe shortages of cornmeal, meat, milk and other staples.
Meanwhile, water shortages have worsened because of pump breakdowns, and a senior government official said kidney patients were dying for lack of dialysis machines.
The official Herald newspaper reported that Mugabe told a meeting of local council members that they should put more pressure on government ministers to improve services.
"Where money for projects has not been found, we will print it," Mugabe was quoted as saying.
The printing of money is generally regarded as a recipe for inflation -- which is officially at 4,500 percent in Zimbabwe, though private economists estimate it to be at least twice that high. The government last month ordered sweeping price cuts of about 50 percent, accusing store owners and businesses of fueling the inflation.
Zimbabwe is in the grips of its worst crisis since independence from Britain in 1980. Power, water, health and communications systems are collapsing, and there are acute shortages of staple foods and gasoline. Unemployment is around 80 percent, and political unrest is high.
Mugabe blames Western sanctions and rejects criticism that the meltdown is the result of mismanagement and the often-violent seizures of thousands of white-owned farms he ordered beginning in 2000.
The biggest government hospital group acknowledged Friday that 10 of its 18 kidney dialysis machines were awaiting repair and imported spare parts that require scarce hard currency.
Pharmacists on Friday advised AIDS patients to stock up on their drugs after local manufacturers warned they would soon run out of imported raw materials.
The government-ordered price controls have emptied stores across the country, with businesses saying they can't afford to sell at the new prices. About 5,000 managers and gas station and store owners have been arrested and fined for defying the price controls since the order was issued June 26.
Daily power outages are forcing Zimbabweans to light fires to cook and to heat water. State radio reported Friday that a woodlands park used for conservation classes was endangered by wood poachers who had stripped nearly 500 acres of its indigenous msasa trees and other long-burning hardwoods.