17 Jan 2009

Zimbabwe set to issue 100 trillion dollar note

9:12 am on 17 January 2009

Zimbabwe's central bank will issue a 100 trillion Zimbabwe dollar banknote, worth about $US33 on the black market, to try to ease desperate cash shortages, state-run media said on Friday.

Prices are doubling every day and food and fuel are in short supply.

A cholera epidemic has killed more than 2,000 people and a deadlock between President Robert Mugabe and the opposition over power sharing has dampened hopes of ending the crisis.

Hyper-inflation has forced the central bank to keep issuing new banknotes which quickly become almost worthless. There is an official exchange rate, but most Zimbabweans resort to the informal market for currency transactions.

As well as the Z$100 trillion dollar note, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe plans to launch Z$10 trillion, Z$20 trillion and Z$50 trillion notes, the Herald reported.

"The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe has introduced a new family of banknotes which will gradually come into circulation, starting with the Z$10 trillion," the newspaper said, citing a central bank statement.

Previous banknote issues have done little to ease the plight of Zimbabweans who often line up for hours outside banks to withdraw barely enough to buy a loaf of bread.

Critics blame the economic meltdown on government mismanagement, including the seizure and redistribution of thousands of white-owned farms. The once-thriving farm sector has fallen into ruin.

Mr Mugabe, 84, in power since independence from Britain in 1980, says Western sanctions are the main cause of the economic crisis and worsening humanitarian situation.

A worsening cholera epidemic has piled pressure on politicians to bury their differences and try to ease the suffering of millions. The disease has killed 2,225 people out of 42,675 cases, UN figures show.

Political analysts say the establishment of a unity government between Mr Mugabe's Zanu-PF party and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change is the best hope of reversing the economic slide and the humanitarian crisis.

But power-sharing talks are deadlocked over the control of key ministries. MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai accuses Mr Mugabe of trying to assign the MDC a junior role and has demanded the release of detained opposition members and activists.