Yesterday Government declared the cholera outbreak in Harare a state of emergency, paving way for sustained and deliberate action by the Executive and its partners to tackle a problem that has already killed 20 people.
While the state of emergency only covers Harare, the scourge has spread to other provinces including Mashonaland Central, Midlands, Masvingo and Manicaland. Tellingly, in most of the confirmed cases in other provinces, infections have been traced back to the capital, further affirming the need to deal decisively with the cholera outbreak at source.
However, while the move to declare cholera in Harare a state of emergency as announced by Health and Child Care Minister, Dr Obadiah Moyo, is a positive development, it does not address the real problem.
Cholera in Harare is indeed a serious problem calling for national intervention, but it is also a microcosm of a bigger issue.
The real problem in Harare is that of perennial water supply problems. Erratic and in some cases zero water supplies have led to an unhealthy situation where residents are forced to resort to unsafe water sources.
As a result, cholera and typhoid outbreaks have continued as ticking time bombs that sometimes explode with devastating impact on residents.
Harare has a population of about 1,5 million, according to the 2012 census and by virtue of being the major city has more interaction with other provinces.
Unfortunately, Harare is also the dirtiest city in the country with food vendors indiscriminately occupying open spaces in residential areas as well as the CBD.
Failure to collect garbage by the City Fathers has not helped the situation. Heaps of rubbish, including used diapers, continue to pile up while sewage flows like a punctured aquifer. But the cherry on the poisoned cake is lack of access to safe water, a basic human right.
A $144 million loan extended to Harare City Council by China-Exim Bank for the rehabilitation of Morton Jaffray Water Works and sewer works seems to have been flushed down the drain. Perennial water cuts under the guise of upgrading water works also yielded no result.
The new Cabinet must step up to the challenge. The Harare water problem has now grown too big for the inept, completely out of depth council. Council has neither the finances nor capacity to solve the crisis.
We are now past the “a competent city council can come up with a solution” stage. It is now time for Central Government to take over.
We urge President Mnangagwa and Local Government Minister July Moyo to lead the process of the takeover of Harare water by Government. We urge Government to take over water reticulation in the country’s largest city until such a time that works can be handed back to council.
By that time, we hope, Harare and the rest of the country would be safe from cholera and typhoid.
Leaving such a huge problem to a local authority a clueless as Harare dangerous. We keep going round and round in circles and in the process lives are lost.
The cholera epidemic of 2008/09 killed over 4 000 in various parts of the country and that is where we are headed if Harare continues as if everything is normal.
Now is the time for Central Government to act on Harare water.