“It’s well past time for Robert Mugabe to leave,” Rice said in Copenhagen.
Negotiations between Mugabe’s ruling party and the opposition led by Morgan Tsvangirai to form a unity government remain stalled after disputed presidential elections earlier in the year.
Rice called for the international community, especially the surrounding African nations, to step up their efforts to aid the country as it faces a deepening economic crisis and a cholera epidemic aggravated by its crumbling infrastructure.
“If this is not evidence to the international community that it’s time to stand up for what is right I don’t know what will be,” Rice said.
In one of the harshest statements yet from a fellow African leader, Kenya’s Prime Minister Raila Odinga also called for Mugabe to step down on Thursday.
“It’s time for African governments … to push him out of power,” Odinga said after talking with Tsvangirai, the BBC reported.
On Thursday, Zimbabwe declared the cholera outbreak a national emergency, a day after doctors and nurses protested for better pay and working conditions in the streets of Harare.
The country’s economy continues to be crippled by a soaring inflation rate that officially reached 231 million percent and a government that remains locked in a power-sharing dispute.
“Our central hospitals are literally not functioning. Our staff is demotivated and we need your support to ensure that they start coming to work and our health system is revived,” said Health Minister David Parirenyatwa, state-run newspaper the Herald reported.
Declaring the cholera epidemic a national outbreak gives the health minister power to appeal for international help.
Oxfam GB, a British aid organization working in Zimbabwe, welcomed the emergency declaration and called for the international community to help provide food and medical aid.
“Millions of people were already facing starvation,” said Oxfam’s Zimbabwe director Peter Mutoredzanwa. “With unemployment over 80 percent, and food unavailable across the country, they now have to contend with cholera and other diseases as the water and sanitation systems break down. With the rainy season upon us, the epidemic will spread even more rapidly.”
The European Union, the Red Cross and other aid organizations pledged assistance while South Africa’s government said it will announce an aid package next week.
Britain, the former colonial ruler of Zimbabwe, said it would provide $14.7 million in emergency aid to combat the disease.
“Mugabe’s failed state is no longer willing or capable of protecting its people,” British Prime Minster Gordon Brown said in a statement, according to London’s Daily Telegraph. “Thousands are stricken with cholera, and must be helped urgently. The international community’s differences with Mugabe will not prevent us doing so.”
Since August, cholera has claimed more than 575 lives with a total of 12,7000 suspected cases, the United Nations reported on Friday.
Cholera spreads through contaminated water and food. A World Health Organization report said that “recent interruptions to the water supplies, together with overcrowding, are aggravating factors in this epidemic.”
Water was turned off for three days earlier in the week after authorities ran out of purifying chemicals. On Thursday, the country’s water and infrastructure minster said his agency had enough to chemicals to treat water for the next 12 weeks but appealed for money to make it through the next two months, according to the Herald.
On Thursday the government said it needed US$450 million to help combat widespread hunger caused by drought, according to the Herald.
UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, stepped up its aid efforts on Thursday by providing emergency cholera kits and water supplies as part of a 120-day emergency plan to help the women and children who are bearing the brunt of the suffering.