'Govt to blame for cholera epidemic'

HARARE - Civic Society Health Emergency Response Coordinating Committee (CSHERCC) has said the government is solely to blame for the more than 25 reported cholera deaths.

In a statement read by Community Water Alliance national coordinator Timothy Chitambure on behalf of the committee at a press briefing, the committee expressed sadness over the way government has handled the epidemic.

“CSHERCC holds government accountable and through it the local authorities and the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (Zinwa), accountable for the deaths of people as they failed to provide basic health services, medical treatment and services, clean running water and sanitary surroundings to people so as to adequately respond and to contain the spread of the waterborne disease.

“The failure by government to swiftly respond to the cholera epidemic is an unacceptable failure of leadership and represents a clear failure on the part of government to uphold its constitutional obligations as provided in the constitution and other regional and other regional and international instruments,” he said.

Chitambure said government’s failure to guarantee the right to health is a serious violation of both local and international laws adding that local authorities also have a duty to account for all the funds that they charge ratepayers for water and sewerage.

He said government should be guided by the fact that human rights relating to health are provided for in the Constitution.

“The Zimbabwean Constitution places an obligation on the State to guarantee the rights of persons to clean environment, the right to healthcare and the right to safe clean and potable water.

“We are particularly alarmed by the lack of access to potable water resulting in the outbreak of waterborne disease,” Matambure said.

Matambure said going forward, the government and its partners should work together, and swiftly, with communities and non-State actors to prevent further outbreaks.

“We recommend the ministry of Finance to increase budget allocation on water, sanitation and hygiene to achieve 15 percent allocation to health as provided for in the Abuja Declaration to enhance the quality of life of citizens.

“All affected people should be provided with rapid free medical assistance, clean running water and sanitary environs,” he said.

Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) national director Okay Machisa has called on government to address the causes of cholera first if they are to contain the disease.

Machisa also called on the government to be transparent with funds contributed by well-wishers to fight cholera.

The cholera outbreak, which hit the capital city at the beginning of this month has claimed more than 25 lives, with about 4 600 cases being reported in Harare while 13 others have died from typhoid in Gweru.

The disease has since spread out to the Midlands, Masvingo, Mashonaland Central and Manicaland provinces while Bulawayo reported three suspected cholera cases yesterday.

Speaking to the Daily News, Machisa said while he commends government’s efforts in fighting the disease, it must show the public how they are allocating the funds.

Machisa said: “The government must be accountable to the public... this is what we have put in place. We have done the following in order to ensure that the disease does not claim more lives.”

He warned that if the government does not garner enough resources, the cholera outbreak will claim more lives than it did in 2008 when more than 4 000 people died from cholera making it the largest outbreak ever recorded in the country.

The human rights defender said it is important to address the causes of cholera instead of treating the symptoms.

He noted that most municipalities have been operating on insufficient budgets attributable to myriad of factors.

Some of these factors, he said, date back to the era when the government ordered municipalities to cancel resident’s debts.

“Of course, we as residents have our part to play in paying our rates but the government failed local authorities when it directed debt cancellations.

“As a result, councils were left with a lot of gaps... so you’ll discover that councils are still struggling to mend that gap, said Machisa, adding that it will take
years for council to recover from that directive.

In the run-up to the 2013 harmonised elections, the government ordered municipalities to write off outstanding rates and bills.

During that time, the country’s 92 local authorities were owed over $2 billion in unpaid rates and bills.

Last year, the government admitted that most local authorities are failing to recover as a result of the directive.

Machisa hinted that mismanagement of funds by the city fathers could also have contributed to the outbreak of the cholera.

“In the past we have seen council employees going for months without being paid... we may be shocked to find out that the big fish are the ones living properly and the money which is supposed to be going into refuse collection and water treatment is probably being channelled somewhere,” he said.

He said it is surprising that the government has not committed anything to fight cholera like what corporates have done.

“This is the time we should be seeing government’s efforts. We know the police have clinics and the army have hospitals and doctors. We should be seeing them doing something...,” he said.

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