Epworth has been growing at a very fast rate and is touted to be one of the most highly-populated settlements in Zimbabwe. Water and sanitation issues are a serious challenge and diarrhoeal diseases are imminent. Many other challenges face the settlement. The Herald Correspondent Nyemudzai Kakore (NK) speaks to Epworth Local Board Town Secretary Dr Wilton Mhanda (WM) on this and other issues.
NK: What is Epworth’s population and has the continued increase in population corresponded to the development of infrastructure to support the water, sanitation and hygiene needs of residents?
WM: The population of Epworth as at 2012 was about 167 700 people and as of now it is estimated to be about 200 000 people. The continued increase in population has outstripped the development of infrastructure to support the water, sanitation and hygiene needs of our community.
NK: Can you attest to the challenges faced by residents of Epworth in relation to water, sanitation and hygiene?
WM: Yes, our residents are currently facing numerous challenges with regard to the supply of potable water and proper sanitation as well as minimum acceptable standards of hygiene.
Currently, Epworth does not have its own source of water and it depends solely on City of Harare for its water supply which comes for about eight hours in about two weeks.
However, if at all the water supply comes it will have very low pressure leaving most of the areas on the high ground without potable water.
What we are currently getting from the City of Harare is far below our requirement per household and our household water requirement is about 10 cubic metres of water per month for each.
Given this challenge, most of our members of the community would be fetching water for domestic use from unprotected open wells as well as from the few boreholes which are dotted around Epworth.
The ground water within Epworth is highly contaminated with faecal matter since our community uses Blair toilets which are normally cited very close to the open wells.
Besides, faecal matter we also have the most commonly found bacteria coli forms in our routine water tests.
We have a small dam nearby along the Ruwa River, but the water is also contaminated because of raw sewer which is discharged in the river upstream.
This is the other challenge which our community is facing with regard to water requirements.
When we are talking about the challenges which the residents of Epworth are facing with regard to water, it is not only limited to the quality of water and its availability alone but it is more to do with water coverage in terms of infrastructure. Currently, only about 14 percent of our properties are covered by the water infrastructure and the rest are not.
Epworth Local Board does not have a functional sewer reticulation system and as a result pits and Blair toilets are in use.
NK: Have you recorded any water borne disease this year or the previous year taking into consideration that other high-density suburbs like Mbare and Kuwadzana were hit by typhoid, cholera respectively?
WM: True, Epworth’s situation in terms of diarrhoeal diseases was not in any way better than Mbare and some parts of Kuwadzana at all.
Given this position, it is not surprising that Epworth recorded quite a significant number of water-borne diseases where we had about 2400 diarrhoeal cases, in 2017 and out of that, 40 percent were severe.
Then, in the first quarter of this year we have so far recorded about 600 cases of diarrhoeal diseases again with 4 percent being severe diarrhoeal cases.
NK: In terms of hygiene, how are you enforcing strict public health regulations on food handling and vendor hygiene?
WM: In our bid to enforce strict health regulations, we have programmes which we carry out in our community such as educating them about proper hygienic standards.
In addition, we encourage our community to operate within designated areas. As a last resort we raid informal traders and confiscate their wares for destruction when it’s necessary.
NK: What is the current situation with regard to waste collection and management at household level and in public places?
WM: Collection of solid waste is currently being carried out at major shopping centres. As at household level, collection of solid waste has just started in a few settlements which have developed road network. Then, in a majority of our areas, residents are mainly using refuse pits at household levels due to undeveloped road network.
NK: How much is required to solve Epworth water and sanitation problems?
WM: The estimated amount which is required to address the water and sanitation problem in Epworth is $93 193 800
NK: How much do you owe Harare in terms of water bills?
WM: Our current bill from the City of Harare stands at $12,896.70.
NK: On the issue of planned settlements, in what ways does the allocation of illegal stands by land barons on space meant for purposes such as industrial and commercial affect your service delivery?
WM: The illegal allocation of stands by some land barons has disturbed how we should be providing services in the affected areas. For instance, it would be difficult to open roads on areas we were supposed to do so. Again on areas which were designated as for instance a hospital site, land barons would target such places.
As of now we have cases of some land barons who demarcated an area which was originally designated to be a cemetery site and sold stands to people.
As I speak the cemetery site is no longer there. As council we face some resistance whenever we want to carry out any type of service on an area which land barons would have occupied.
NK: How are you managing this crisis?
WM: We are taking the issues to the courts seeking eviction. However, where it is possible for people to settle we apply for a change of use and regularize the area.
NK: As the Epworth Local Board, briefly outline some of the sustainable long-term interventions you are implementing that seek to improve the health and well-being of the population?
WM: This council has carried out a lot of interventions in an attempt to improve the health and well-being of its community and one of the interventions which this council did was to regularise the settlements of its community.
Regularisation covered planning of informal settlements, carrying out of title survey and formal allocation of stands. This exercise also included creation of clinics, schools and other social amenities such as crèches and others. Roads are also being currently opened in some areas where re-allocation of stands has been completed.
The other intervention is that this council is planning to construct a water reservoir.
NK: What kind of assistance have you received from Government in these initiatives?
WM: The Government assisted us when we carried out the baseline survey and mainly at the planning stage.
At the planning stage the Government particularly, the Department of Physical Planning in the Ministry of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing assigned its officers to work with those consulted in ward 6 and 7, throughout the duration of the exercise.
NK: Lastly in terms of the HIV infection prevalence and sexually transmitted diseases, what awareness programmes initiated by the Board are in place (not including what NGO partners are doing)?
WM: This council together with the Ministry of Health and Child Care carries out health education at schools, outreach programmes and addresses all our clients at morning sessions in all departments at our two polyclinics.