Cholera outbreak sad reminder of 2008

HARARE - About a week ago, the Daily News ran an editorial comment on whether Zimbabwe should be battling medieval diseases like cholera and typhoid in this day.

An outbreak had been reported in Stoneridge — a sprawling settlement in Harare South.

But then cholera is an aggressively contagious disease and as we speak, it has spread beyond the confines of Harare South and has literally crossed Hunyani River into Chitungwiza, with St Mary’s now the epi-centre of the disease.

Four deaths have been reported so far, while 13 confirmed cases are under treatment.

Cholera and typhoid are bacterial water-borne infections attributed to poor sanitation.

For years, Chitungwiza has not had its own water supplies, relying on erratic supplies from the City of Harare whose Prince Edward Water Treatment Plant lies on Hunyani River in the Manyame catchment.

St Mary’s is one of the most populous of Chitungwiza suburbs and also has to contend with the three-days-per-week supplies of water amid the frequent sewer bursts that take days to be attended to.

The sewer system, which was designed to cater for a much smaller population now has to serve newer suburbs and a growing population. Although a contractor has been working on replacing the obsolete pipes, sewer bursts are reported frequently.

While access to safe water is guaranteed in the country’s Constitution and, as such, must be central when the State draws up its spending priorities, Chitungwiza seems to be a place, which is outside Zimbabwe.

Chitungwiza reportedly owes Harare quite a staggering amount in water bills and probably it explains why they have to ration the precious liquid to residents of the capital’s dormitory town. Most people who live in Chitungwiza work in Harare, since Chitungwiza does not have an industry of its own.

Chitungwiza Municipality, which has of late sought the services of debt collectors to enforce payment of outstanding amounts in the form of water bills and rates, must also realise that safe water is important for people to lead dignified lives.

Water is a prerequisite in realising other fundamental human rights too, like the right to health and the right to a safe and clean environment.

Because of the erratic water supplies and the generally untidy environment in St Mary’s, diseases like cholera and typhoid thrive and it is a question of time before this epidemic actually spreads to other areas within and beyond Chitungwiza.

The municipality must prioritise investment in water supply projects. Some years back, a new project was supposed to take shape at Imbwa Farm, but there has not been any talk about it lately. The project may have suffered a stillbirth.

If Chitungwiza Municipality really cares about the lives of its residents, council would negotiate with Harare City Council to jointly treat water at Prince Edward. Chitungwiza could purchase chemicals and get its water subsidised by an equivalent amount thereby ensuring continuous supply of safe water to its residents.

On the other hand, residents must take legislators to task for failing them so badly as successive Parliaments have failed to address Chitungwiza’s water woes.

As I write, several prospective candidates are moving around doling out small food handouts to the desperate population and yet the key issues pertaining to water supply, refuse disposal, sewer bursts, clogged storm water drains and a host of other infrastructural challenges remain unresolved.

Right now, most people rely on shallow wells dug within the perimeter of small residential stands whose basement is clogged by free-flowing sewage.

Curiously, even in cases when legislators got the Constituency Development Fund (CDF), practically very little went into water supply and reticulation projects with most legislators converting the facility to personal use.

Most residents are on the other side of the social ladder and can not afford the luxury of drilling boreholes at homesteads.

One only needs go back to 2008 when an estimated 4 000 people died of cholera because of insanitary conditions.

The 2008 calamity served to show how access to clean water and shelter and basic healthcare must be ahead of any community’s priorities.

While Chitungwiza Municipality’s response to the current outbreak is commendable, given that even managers were seen driving the standby fire tender on Sunday to get water to St Mary’s Clinic, which has since been made the local cholera centre, more needs to be done to find a lasting solution to the town’s mounting water supply and sanitary problems.

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