Diarrhea, typhoid hit Zimbabwe as water, sanitation crisis worsens

Diarrhea, typhoid hit Zimbabwe as water, sanitation crisis worsens

The water and sanitation crisis in Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital city, places millions of residents at risk of waterborne disease, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report released last week.

The 60-page report, Troubled Water: Burst Pipes, Contaminated Wells, and Open Defecation in Zimbabwe’s Capital, describes how residents have little access to potable water and sanitation services, and often resort to drinking water from shallow, unprotected wells that arecontaminated with sewage, and to defecating outdoors.

“Harare’s water and sanitation system is broken and the government is not fixing it,” HRW Southern Africa director Tiseke Kasambala said in a statement posted on the organisation’s website.

Kasambala also said in many communities there is no water for drinking and bathing, streets are littered with sewage, and there is diarrhea and typhoid and the threat of another cholera epidemic.

Five years after cholera killed over 4 000 people and sickened 100 000 more, the conditions that allowed the epidemic to flourish persist in Harare’s high-density suburbs, HRW said, adding that these conditions violate people’s right to water, sanitation and health.

Many residents told HRW researchers that the lack of household water forced them to wait for water at boreholes for up to five hours a day, and that violence frequently erupted when lines were especially long.

People believe these boreholes – 200 of which were drilled by international agencies during the cholera epidemic – are the safest water option available, yet one-third of boreholes tested in Harare by Harare Water, the city agency in charge of water, showed contamination.

Residents also said that the city charged them for municipal water even when the water flowed only sporadically or was contaminated.

If people were unable to pay their bills, the city turned off their water supply. Some residents described raw sewage flowing into their homes and streets from burst pipes, in which children frequently played.

The water shortage and the lack of functioning indoor toilets or community latrines sometimes gave them no choice but to defecate outdoors.

The New York-based rights organisation urged the Zimbabwean government to invest in low-cost sanitation and water strategies. “Implement a sliding fee scale for municipal water and stop disconnecting the water supply for lack of payment,” HRW added.

Earlier in 2013, the government announced a US$144 million loan from the Chinese government, with 46 Chinese engineers coming to Harare, to upgrade the water infrastructure primarily by improving the sewage treatment plants.

While the government has promoted the loan as the solution to Harare’s water crisis, its terms have not been made public.  Critics have decried the loan as exemplifying the lack of transparency and corruption in water and sewage services.

Many countries in Africa have similar problems more than 50 years after independence from Europe due to  neglect, state corruption, dictatorship, and lack of investment and financial transparency.

Drinking water is still a luxury for many people in Africa, and many more use the bush, open spaces and backyards to defecate and bath.

More than 300 million people in Africa and 650 million  do not have access to safe drinking water and sanitation, respectively, according to independent statistics.

Download the full report

(Issued by HRW, final editing and additional reports by Issa Sikiti da Silva)

Photo by Sokwanele.com. A Zimbabwean woman washes clothes in a dirty water in the capital Harare

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