Harare, Chitungwiza health time bombs

HARARE - A time bomb is ticking in some of Zimbabwe’s biggest urban areas such as Harare and Chitungwiza, where city fathers continue to disconnect water and refuse is piling.

With the onset of the rainy season usually characterised by communicable disease outbreaks, residents in urban areas find themselves relying on unsafe water sources.

In Chitungwiza, the country’s third largest populated urban area, the million plus residents are lucky to get water two days-a-week.

Taps are dry most of the time.

Boreholes drilled by well-wishers such as UN agency, Unicef, after a ravaging cholera outbreak in 2008 are now derelict due to vandalism and overuse.

Four years ago Chitungwiza was the epicentre of a deadly cholera outbreak that killed at least 4 000 people and affected 100 000,  according to aid agencies that moved to contain the situation.

Even though conditions have improved, the state of affairs is far from ideal as residents sometimes sleep in queues hunting for safe drinking borehole water.

Precious Shumba, chairperson of residents’ representative group Harare Residents Trust said cutting water supply to punish residents for non-payment of steep rates could spark a disease outbreak.

“We denounce local authorities that use water to make money. Water remains a human right and we are aware that Chitungwiza and Harare municipalities and other authorities have resorted to disconnecting residents who will be failing to pay,” said Shumba.

 Even those who pay their rates are not spared, as water shortages have become the norm. Chitungwiza Residents and Ratepayers Association chairperson Arthur Taderera said residents had given up hope council would fix water shortage problems.

“Conditions are pathetic. We have areas where people have not received water for the past three years. Boreholes built by MPs using constituency development funds are now down and those that are functioning are overwhelmed,” he said.

“We are still aware of the cholera outbreak that killed hundreds of people here and there are some pockets in the town that still has the disease. With the water cuts we are going to see another outbreak which will spread like a veld fire. Council is insensitive to the plight of the people,” said Taderera.

In the capital, Harare, more than 800 cases of typhoid have been reported this year alone, while the city’s health department has warned that poor sanitation conditions could also lead to a cholera outbreak.

Piled up garbage is not just an eyesore in Zimbabwe’s rundown cities but also diffuse a smell that pollutes the air and also offers perfect breeding ground for bacteria that causes diseases such as malaria.

Diseases such as typhoid, cholera, diarrhoea and malaria are spread through insects, food, water and the threat of further spread, fueled by chronically unsanitary conditions is still very real for residents in Chitungwiza and other towns.

Overpopulation is worsening the situation. Urban planners say most towns and cities are failing to cope with massive rural to urban migration.

Some of the city fathers claim to be acutely aware of the problem, but action has been slow. Emmanuel Chiroto, Harare’s deputy mayor says the city is suffering from a resource shortage to match the population boom.

Chiroto says there is need for rapid infrastructure expansion.

“Harare is the worst affected town by urbanisation. You find more than 10 people sharing a single toilet and as a town we are overwhelmed by demand. We must upgrade our infrastructure in order to cope but unfortunately we do not have the money,” said Chiroto.

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