HARARE - The shocking full page of photographs in last week’s Daily News on Sunday of people scavenging in Harare’s Pomona dump site could not have come at a more appropriate time.
The images appeared when members of the Harare Residents Trust (HRT) were addressing MPs at a Parliamentary Portfolio Committee Meeting on Local Government. The HRT exposed the dire sanitation situation prevailing in parts of Harare.
Going for months and in some cases years without piped water, people are forced to use untreated water collected from unprotected sources such as stagnant streams and shallow wells. The HRT told MPs that people were defecating in plastic bags which they then discarded in council dump sites.
The Combined Harare Residents Association said their ward co-ordinators had last week reported on a suspected cholera-related diarrhoea outbreak in Mabvuku.
Over nine hundred cases had been recorded in a week; news which sent chills down our spines. It’s only six years since the tragedy of 2008 and 2009 when a cholera epidemic raged through the country, affecting people in every province and leaving an estimated 4 000 people dead.
We haven’t forgotten how the 2008 cholera epidemic spread like wildfire due to the shocking state of urban water supplies, broken and overflowing sewage pipes and piles of dumped and uncollected garbage.
Those two critical aspects of water and sanitation which caused the 2008 crisis are almost as fragile now as they were then.
Broken water pipes and burst sewage pipes still go unrepaired for weeks in towns and cities around the country. Dry taps leave residents with no choice but to collect water from unsafe sources while mounds of dumped garbage fester in stinking piles everywhere.
Almost a thousand cases of diarrhoea reported from two Mabvuku clinics in one week should come as a loud alarm bell to municipal authorities in urban centres around the country.
To prevent a repeat of the 2008 tragedy, local government authorities need to be vigorously pro-active instead of waiting until the next epidemic strikes.
We urgently need a return to the time when residents and officials took pride in their towns, cleaned up garbage and ensured safe water and sewage systems.
Where are municipal authorities and health officials when it comes to the multitude of roadside tuck shops selling unwrapped fruit and vegetables on almost every urban and residential street corner?
Where are roadside vendors and pavement sellers relieving themselves and washing their hands before handling unprotected fresh produce?
Everyone understands the burden of unemployment and the need to make an honest living but street selling must be accompanied by hygienic conditions.
The same applies to the thousands of “under the tree” churches that emerge every weekend.
Scores of worshippers often have nowhere except the surrounding bush to relieve themselves and no water to wash their hands when attending these open-air churches.
Where are Ema officials when it comes to the piles of garbage dumped in the bush and on roadsides? Why aren’t Ema putting pressure on municipal authorities to clean up the garbage and using legislation to prosecute noncompliant local authorities?
Where are municipal police who once patrolled residential areas and stopped illegal cultivation along stream beds and in wetlands — both prime sites for the movement of cholera bacteria during the rainy season?
In December 2008, the international media quoted the then Zanu PF Information minister saying: “Cholera is a calculated, racist, terrorist attack on Zimbabwe by the unrepentant former colonial power, which has enlisted support from its American and Western allies so that they can invade the country.”
Who will they blame for the next epidemic?