Ways to tackle waterborne diseases

HARARE - With the recent outbreak of cholera in the country, water and sanitation management is being put under the spotlight again.

Waterborne diseases such as cholera, dysentery and typhoid are acute diarrheal diseases caused by pathogenic micro-organisms that are transmitted in water.

This may happen through contamination of water sources by wastewater or raw sewage.

It is reported that the cholera outbreak in Harare began at the beginning of September and as of mid-September, there were 27 reported deaths.

In addition, there have been over 4 000 reported cases of suspected cholera.

This has led government to declare the Harare Metropolitan area as a state of emergency.

Contaminated water sources, open flow of sewage and undesignated solid waste dump sites all pose a high risk of contracting cholera and other communicable diseases.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), in the year 2000, there were 140 000 cases of cholera resulting in approximately 5 000 deaths, and Africa accounted
for 87 percent of these cases.

In 2016, there were 132 121 cholera cases and 2420 deaths reported to the WHO worldwide.

These figures are staggering, especially considering that such diseases can easily be avoided.

With this background in mind, it is critical that we explore innovative ways in which such death-causing diseases can be avoided and at least minimised.

One such approach is integrated urban water management (IUWM), which is a concept that promotes the alignment of urban development and natural resources management to achieve sustainable economic, social and environmental goals.

It brings together water supply, sanitation, storm water, wastewater, solid waste and integrates these with land use planning and economic development.

Growing housing competition, aged sewer pipes, water shortages, distorted urban planning and illegal dumping of solid waste in Zimbabwe make it imperative to rethink conventional preventative methods and instead look at an integrated approach supported by all stakeholders.

Government has expressed its interest to be included in the roll out of the “Cities of the Future” Programme, which encompasses IUWM.

The municipality of Marondera with a population of 65 000 inhabitants was selected by government to receive support to develop an integrated water and wastewater master plan that will in part present detailed prioritised investments.

The rationale for the selection of Marondera over the other towns was principally based on prospects for substantial value addition in the face of dire needs for improved water supply and sanitation services in Marondera.

The integrated approach looks at water, storm water, wastewater, and solid waste holistically whilst also capacitating institutions and fostering stakeholder engagement.

The municipality, which – like all other local authorities and town councils — is hamstrung by financial challenges, would benefit from the project greatly in the sense that there will be immediate rehabilitation of critical water and sewer services that were previously strained due to aging of infrastructure and lack of maintenance.

This subsequently, will help alleviate to an extent the present health problems bedevilling our country such as cholera and typhoid.

Tackling the outbreak of water-borne diseases through integrated urban water management by aligning urban development with natural resources management must be considered and seen as the way to go.

A paradigm shift is required so that we deviate from conventional prevention methods and adopt integrated approaches to enable sustainability, sound planning and management and eventually good health for all of us Zimbabweans.

There is no reason for such cholera cases to happen again in future.

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