Address water, sanitation woes now

HARARE - The rainy season is normally received with joy by many.

But, for others the onset of the season can signal the end of life if access to clean water and sanitation is not immediately addressed.

Most Zimbabweans still vividly recall ravages of the cholera epidemic which wiped over 5 000 people and left close to 100 000 being treated at cholera treatment centres.

They have every reason to fear for the worst as access to clean water and adequate sanitation still remains a mirage.

The deplorable nature of the water and sanitation facilities is not confined to the urban areas like Harare alone.

It is across the entire nation with 27 percent of Zimbabweans lacking access to clean water while 40 percent do not have access to sanitation facilities.

Water-borne diseases will spread quickly during the rainy season putting the poor and vulnerable in society at great risk.

Half of the population in rural areas which constitute about 70 percent of the population also have no access to safe water supplies and sanitation facilities.

In Siyapambili Village in Tsholotsho one out of 85 households has a latrine and the rest practise open defecation. They all get water from a single borehole.

In Mberengwa, people are now sharing water sources with cattle as more than 70 boreholes are not working. Like their urban counterparts getting water is a daily struggle.

What makes this case more dire is the recent revelation by parliamentarians that in Zimbabwe water is now more expensive than fuel.

A recent household survey by the Zimbabwe Statistical Agency and the United Nations Children’s Fund has revealed that more than 4 000 children under the age of five, most of them from rural areas have been killed by diarrhoea due to lack of safe water and sanitation, killing more children than HIV and Aids, malaria and measles.

What really puzzles all and sundry is finding an answer as to what really went wrong in terms of water and sanitation over all these years.

The answer to this question is very simple — no meaningful investment was made in this regard except mitigatory efforts by international development partners.

Recent media reports point to government failure to provide safe water and sanitation facilities “inadequate safe water and poor sanitation in rural areas continue to worsen due to the failure by government to maintain safe water and sanitation facilities in communities and schools.

It is estimated that 60 percent of rural water points are not functioning, leaving a significant percentage of children vulnerable to sanitation diseases.

These sentiments were also echoed by Harare mayor Muchadeyi Masunda who said local authorities need to get more policy positions from central government instead of getting conflicting signals.

One is really taken aback by the recent pronouncement by Local Government minister Ignatius Chombo that he is ready to make appropriate measures if the City of Harare management fails to deal with the water crisis within two weeks.

Hiring and firing has never and will never work in as far as the water problem is concerned.

Harare water problems are far more complex and the blame cannot be put squarely on the current management team.

In 1999, then minister of Local Government John Nkomo fired the late Harare executive mayor and national hero Solomon Tawengwa after the city went for days without water.

Various commissions were installed and entrusted to turnaround the fortunes of the city and failed dismally.

It does not make sense to continue firing and replacing officials without investing into the revamping of the water works to meet the ever-increasing demand for water.

What the minister must do is to declare the water problem a national disaster and address the issue in a comprehensive manner.

Clean water and sanitation facilities are basic necessities for all Zimbabweans which the state should prioritise as the first step in saving lives of citizens. - Wellington Gadzikwa

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