By Rumbidzai Ngwenya
Adequate sanitation, together with good hygiene and safe water, are fundamentals to good health and socio-economic development.
Unfortunately, in Harare these fundamentals have not been realised owing largely to poor service delivery by the city authority.
The sanitation system in Harare is poor and has resulted in a public health crisis and contributed to cholera and typhoid epidemics that claimed hundreds of lives over the years.
With efforts to curb the continuous outbreak and spreading of diseases, the City of Harare with several partners recently held a three-in-one event where belated commemorations were held to mark the Global Hand Washing Day, World Toilet Day and the National Sanitation Week.
During the event, City of Harare pledged to educate the public on the importance of sanitation, health and hygiene.
The message was taken to the capital’s high density suburbs that included Mufakose, Highfields, Glenview, Budiriro and Mbare where disease outbreaks were reported.
The campaign, city officials say, was to increase awareness about the importance of sanitation in daily living.
It hosted community activities which included public awareness, public participation programmes and roadshows aimed at encouraging people to take action and raise the profile of sanitation and hygiene.
The final day was attended by people from different parts of Harare.
The event was held at Rufaro Stadium in Mbare.
On the last day of the commemorations, former Harare Mayor Bernard Manyenyeni said the recent return of typhoid and cholera should alert stakeholders to ensure the country is properly sanitised and clean water is available.
“We are all aware that Zimbabwe paid a high price for its limited investment in sanitation and water programmes between 2008 and 2009 when we lost many lives due to cholera while almost 100 000 people were infected because of poor hygiene and a lack of sanitation facilities,” said Manyenyeni.
The mayor also acknowledged the sorry state the Mbare flats were in and called for Government intervention to curb continuous disease outbreaks in the area.
“I am glad that this particular event is being held in Mbare as it brings to the fore issues of the urgent need for us to work together in finding a lasting solution to the challenges bedevilling this area,” said Manyenyeni.
“We are all aware that the flats here were built many years ago and are in dire need of rehabilitation.”
The project, Councillor Manyenyeni said, is capital intensive and requires the intervention of government so that our people here are accommodated in family units.
“Yes, as a city we are doing repair works but we all agree that some of the flats here are inhabitable. As a country we can do much better,” he added.
The deterioration of existing infrastructures and rapid urban growth has seriously outstripped the capacity of the city fathers to provide adequate services for Harare citizens.
The Mayor called for investors to chip in.
“We are, however, hopeful that more investment will be poured into infrastructure development. The thrust of the new dispensation of ensuring that Zimbabwe is open and ready for investment gives us hope that infrastructure development deficits will be dealt with,” said Manyenyeni.
The City of Harare also called for concentrated hygiene education for continuous behaviour change amid residents.
“Waste management particularly in most urban centres in Zimbabwe is a challenge as the volumes of waste generated against collection is overwhelming,” the mayor said.
“That is why we find illegal dumpsites sprouting in most areas and the situation calls for intense hygiene education for sustainable behaviour change amongst residents.
“As City of Harare, we are however investing in education and awareness programmes, community participation, asset renewal and development of infrastructure for the efficient management of waste in our urban centres.”
The Minister of Health and Child Welfare, Dr David Parirenyatwa also called for increased efforts on sanitation from hygiene to waste management.
“Let us make it a routine and wash hands as often as one can with soap and running water as was demonstrated during the commemorations,” he said.
“People have the tendency of not using bins.
“There are bins all over but people do not want to use them. We begin to interrogate ourselves on how can we change that culture? How do we manage to change that culture?”
Health experts hailed the commemorations saying they reinforced the message on the importance of access to clean running water and good sanitation standards.
Speaking at the same event, Unilever managing director Hillary Muzondiwa said hygiene communication with residents and provision of products that promote good hygienic habits of hand washing and proper toilet use was essential to prevent the spread of diseases.
“And as such there is greater need to push the message of products that promote good hygiene habits of hand washing and proper toilet use.
His company, he said, had supported an awareness campaign on hygiene reaching out to 3 000 people in Chegutu.
Harare still faces numerous problems when it comes to water, sanitation and hygiene.
City health official, Dr Clemence Duri, said the capital city was overwhelmed by problems in the water supply and waste management sector.
He said the city water and sewer infrastructure was old.
This, he said, resulted in loss of treated water through burst pipes and leakages.
Harare’s demand for treated municipal water outstripped supply.
This has left scores of residents without access to water.
Dr Duri said the city was growing at a rate of about five percent per annum.
“The challenges that we are facing in terms of water supply is that our raw water quality is poor and the cost of treating raw water sewage is high,” he said.
“We use about seven chemicals while other cities are using less than that. The quantity of treated water is inadequate to meet demand for the province.”
Residents often resort to drinking water from shallow, unprotected wells that are contaminated with sewage.
Numerous settlements have mushroomed in and around Harare and they have no access to treated water and sewer infrastructure.
The municipality is struggling to maintain existing sewerage networks and treatment facilities.
“We have got sewer systems that needs upgrading to meet a growing population,” said Dr Duri.
“Sewage treatment works also needs upgrading and we have got a lot of burst sewer pipes which need attention.”
This year’s commemorations were held under the theme: “Water for sanitation and hygiene, every drop counts.”
Experts and residents all agree that without proper investment in the city’s water and sewer infrastructure, waterborne diseases will continue to pose risks for the public.
They say the local authority needs to walk the talk and take major steps to address the concerns of city residents.