Harare faces lawsuit over water crisis

HARARE - The Community Working Group on Health is mulling a lawsuit against the Harare City Council (HCC) alleging that its failure to properly treat drinking water exposes millions of residents to greater risk of severe gastrointestinal illness.

This comes as Harare residents are at risk of life-threatening diseases such as cholera and typhoid due to the increasing pollution of water.

Community Working Group on Health executive director Itai Rusike said it was possible to sue the local authority because the Constitution guarantees everyone the right to health.

At least 116 confirmed cases and 10 deaths from typhoid have been recorded by the Health and Child Care ministry since January.

“Local authorities should be taken to court for these diseases so that we know what the law have to say with regard to these issues,” Rusike told the Daily News.

“We can go to the Constitutional Court and use the provisions of the Constitution to challenge why these things are continuing to occur. People who are dying of water-borne diseases should not perish because such illnesses are avoidable.

“It is, however, important that we have lawyers who are willing to work pro-bono for the community on such.”

He said as long as HCC does not address the causes of waterborne diseases, the capital will continue to be the epicentre of such diseases.

Rusike said access to safe, clean drinking water and timeous refuse collection were key to addressing issues of diarrhoeal disease outbreaks.

“It is very sad that council has to be compelled by threats so that they remove garbage. Burst sewer pipes in suburbs take days to be attended to, exposing residents to all sorts of health risks. If they do not address the fundamental public health concerns, diarrhoeal diseases will continue.

“Right now, very few households do have boreholes or shallow wells as people look for alternatives to the water situation. As a result, we create an environment that is conducive for the spread of diarrhoeal diseases. HCC needs to address the social determinants of health crises in the city,” Rusike said.

Population growth, expansion of agriculture and an increased amount of raw sewage released into rivers were among the main reasons behind the increase of surface water pollution, putting some three million people at risk of infection.

He added that while the current economic conditions were unfavourable, HCC should look to partners for infrastructure development, adding central government should revisit the social grants system towards local authorities as it was their mandate to disburse them.

“Councils have not been receiving these social grants from government, so, instead of ring-fencing the revenue they collect and channelling it towards service delivery, it is going elsewhere,” he said.

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