Life on the margins in Epworth

HARARE - Maggots feast on faecal matter in Epworth as children play close by, apparently oblivious of the health implications.

Elsewhere in this dirt-poor place, a toilet collapses with a resident inside, while a shallow well also caves in while people are fetching water.

All these incidents are part of daily life in Epworth where its inhabitants cope in extreme circumstances with startling ingenuity.

There is plenty to think about if this hamlet of 100 000 tightly packed inhabitants is the ultimate expression of modern urban living.

Epworth is growing at such an astonishing rate that it is predicted to be one of largest urban settlements in the country, but it is an unlikely model metropolis.

Formed by the Methodist Church missionaries in 1890, thousands of quick-witted inhabitants have created a place characterised by personal ingenuity and entrepreneurship.

After the Methodist missionaries handed over the settlement in 1986, a local board was established by the ministry of Local Government.

Before the church handed over Epworth, it had allocated one acre of land to families in the original villages of Chiremba, Makomo, Chinamano and Zinyengere, who until today still boast of large residential stands in the area.

Despite the rapid growth of the place, very little development has occurred since, with no running water, sewer and electricity for most households.

Epworth resident Charles Marapira told the Daily News on Sunday that the problem with the area was that while residents are forced to pay rates, they do not get any services.

He said the local board sends their bills every month with a fixed water charge, but residents hardly get the water.

“We pay for water at the board and we also pay for water at boreholes. The population growth is not matching up with developments. We do not know what they are doing with our money.

“Recently, they started an exercise where they subdivide residential stands and sell them. They are forcing our parents to remain with only 200 square metres while the rest is sold-off.

“The space is too small for a standard family of five. On that same land, we have to dig a toilet and well for our water supply.

“But it is considered unhealthy to have the two in close proximity because bacteria from the toilet can seep into the well and contaminate it.

“Tirikurarama nenyasha because chokwadi ndechekuti vanhu varikumwa weti (We are lucky to be alive because honestly people are drinking their own urine),” Marapira said.

He added that they have complained to the Epworth board chairperson Tafireyi Murambidzi, but he has failed to address the problems ostensibly because he lives in a leafy, low-density suburb.

“When the legislators do come here, which is the time when they want to campaign, they promise heaven on earth but when it comes to implementation, nothing happens.

“They do not feel the urgency because back at their plush homes, they drive their flashy cars and drink borehole water from their yards,” he said.

In a report compiled by the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR) and Epworth Residents Development Association (ERDA), the water and sanitation situation is a major human rights concern.

The report states that while Epworth’s size and population continues to grow, there is no corresponding development.

This comes as the Health and Child Care ministry permanent secretary Gerald Gwinji told legislators that since January, there have been 1 934 typhoid cases and nine deaths across the country with the majority of reports from Harare.

The joint ZADHR-ERDA report titled Forgotten Rights: A Community in Peril chronicles how people in Epworth still have no access to tap water despite their close proximity to Harare.

“The Wash (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) situation poses continued risk as numerous household surveys report the use of pit latrines, open defecation coupled with the lack of a guaranteed supply of safe potable water and the absence of domestic waste management. This has always been the status quo.

“This public health assessment is an urgent call to action to all duty bearers to consider Wash issues in Epworth as priority human rights,” read the report.

During the assessment, ZADHR and ERDA noted that residents did not treat the water they accessed from shallow wells because household water treatment chemical Waterguard and firewood were too expensive for residents.

The report notes that the pit toilets often collapse during the rainy season, while the local board does not collect garbage from the community and only concentrates on refuse removal at shopping centres.

“The rapid assessment has confirmed the absence of systematic Wash infrastructure, with households still unable to access minimum volumes of clean water, with reliance on pit latrines and the increased likelihood of overflowing effluent and poor refuse management,” the report said.

ERDA secretary-general Peter Nyapetwa said countless petitions were sent to the local board to ensure that people receive social services but to no avail. 

He said residents had become fed up of being treated like second class citizens in their own area.

“Soon, Epworth will be the epicentre of a serious health problems if the local board does not act on the water and sanitation situation. Rubbish accumulates at corners and random dumpsites have become common. While they have been promising to service the various villages in Epworth, nothing has happened.

“The residents have now resolved that if they do not get what their monies are worth, they will demonstrate at the local board offices.

“We understand that we get water from Harare but where is it going if the residents do not access it but are required to pay?” Nyapetwa asked rhetorically.

ZADHR executive director Calvin Fambirai said duty bearers such as councillors, municipal authorities and the area’s MP should address the Wash issues in Epworth to avert possible diarrhoeal disease outbreaks in the area.

Fambirai said the community is not prepared to deal with disasters such as an outbreak of cholera and typhoid as most residents cannot afford to go for treatment.

He said due to its close proximity to Harare, it is only a matter of time before diseases such as cholera and typhoid erupt in Epworth.

“During the rainy season, people have water for flushing and hand washing, but during the dry seasons when water is scarce, washing hands is considered as a wastage. This is a serious health hazard because some of the toilets are overflowing and ridden with maggots,” he said.

During a meeting with residents, Epworth local board chairperson Murambidzi said the board would look into the matter.

“We have all these issues before us and it takes time to address all of them. Resources permitting, the water and sewer situation would have been fixed a long time ago,” he said.

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