Roselyne Sachiti Features Editor
Twenty people have succumbed to cholera since an outbreak in the high density areas of Budiriro and Glen View in Harare, on September 1.
By mid morning yesterday (Tuesday), 2 300 people had been treated of suspected cholera which was yesterday declared a state of emergency as isolated cases have been reported in other parts of the country, including Masvingo, Midlands, Manicaland, Mashonaland Central and Chitungwiza.
A medieval disease, cholera is evidence of the deplorable hygienic conditions in the capital, where residents go for months on end without clean tap water, refuse that is not collected and raw sewer flowing into homes.
Water and sanitation provision are perhaps at their worst.
That the latest cholera outbreak was caused by a burst sewer pipe which contaminated borehole water in Glen View is no surprise as the Harare council is notorious for ignoring or attending late to resident’s complaints over burst and chocked sewer.
Just last week, Mbare National residents were frustrated with council which failed to respond to chocked sewer which was overflowing from their toilets posing a serious health hazard. Council, which initially told them that equipment to fix sewer was broken down, only “miraculously” responded after the cholera outbreak.
Even with such a ticking health time bomb on their doorstep, council seemed not too eager to address the root causes of the cholera outbreak, which are well known to them. Harare needs a consistent water supply system and proper refuse management.
Instead, disease and death seem to motivate them to do their job, that of providing clean water and a clean environment.
The city loves sending lost messages.
On Sunday, Harare City Council health director, Dr Clemence Duri, advised residents of the affected residential areas to practice good personal hygiene like washing hands after visiting ablution facilities, buying food from licensed premises and using aqua tablets and WaterGuard to treat their water.
Dear director, to wash hands people need a constant supply of clean water which your council has not been providing to several residential areas, leaving them exposed to the contaminated borehole and well water.
Just a gentle reminder, the reason people are dying of cholera is that Harare City Council did not provide running tap water for months and they had to resort to unsafe sources. The city also ignored reports of burst sewer pipes for two months.
Had your city supplied water, residents would not have gone to the contaminated boreholes in the Tichagarika area of Glen View, which you now have decommissioned after they were exposed to bacteria, which causes cholera and typhoid.
Water and sanitation the best medicine
Has anyone at council ever wondered why in a contest run by the British Medical Journal, Sanitation, was voted the greatest invention of medicine in the last 166 years, beating other advances including the discovery of antibiotics and the development of vaccines?
Given the number of suburbs without tap water, unattended burst water and sewer pipes in the capital, council has clearly lost control and now is just responding to crisis.
How long will it take for council to restore normal water supplies in the affected areas? Has council taken into consideration the amount of water needed by a single person per day to flush, bath, wash dishes, cook and drink?
Why wait for a cholera outbreak to wake up to the reality that if there is no water, providing residents with one or two bowsers as council is now doing can help ease the situation? Affected residents deserve honest answers.
Harare is overloaded
Because of unavailability of low cost housing for the poor, many high density suburbs are overcrowded as landlords lease out rooms for lower rentals. When they decide to cut off water supplies to residential areas, do they factor in that there could be as many as 15 people or more all using one toilet in a seven-roomed house in Glen View?
Does council raise awareness on cholera or they wait for disaster to first strike? Even after the latest deaths, council did not do much to educate people on how to handle bodies of those who died as a result of cholera.
To curb such health blunders, maybe it is time to be firmer on the notorious council and enforce the Public Health Act.
The Minister of Health and Child Care, Dr Obediah Moyo, as a competent authority and the custodian of the Public Health Act, should enforce the Act.
One question that has not been satisfactorily answered is why the capital still faces serious water problems yet it has been implementing the Harare Water and Sanitation Rehabilitation Project under the $144 million Chinese facility?
Of the $144 million Chinese loan secured to rehabilitate Morton Jaffray Water Works, the City of Harare has received $72 million, and the other half is yet to be transferred to them.
Water supply was expected to rise to 670 mega-litres from 400 mega-litres upon completion of the project. Harare needs at least 1 200 mega-litres for every household to have water everyday.
The contractor, China Machinery and Engineering Corporation (CMEC), started work on the project in April 2013 and residents endured a series of averagely two complete shutdowns every month.
The city indicated they were now implementing the $144 million project, raising hope of many residents who got accustomed to many weekend complete shutdowns and here is just a gentle reminder of the few occurrences.
On their Facebook page, the City of Harare on June 30, 2015 wrote that “Harare City Council hereby notifies its water customers that there will be a complete shutdown of the Morton Jaffray Water Treatment Plant on Friday 3 July, 2015 (2000hrs) to Saturday 4 July 2015 (2000hrs).
“The shutdown will allow contractors on site to complete installation of two new pumps and their non-return valves. This will improve pumping output and reliability from the plant.”
Then there was this announcement, “The City of Harare wishes to advise residents of a scheduled complete shutdown of Morton Jaffray Water Works from 0600 hours on 21 to 22 May 2016.
“The shutdown is to facilitate the removal of obsolete equipment and subsequent installation of new equipment.”
Yet another shutdown, “There will be a shutdown at Morton Jaffray to allow repair work on 1 500mm mains from Warren Control to Letombo from 1800 hours on July 6 to 1800 hours on July 8, 2018. The shutdown will affect all areas of Greater Harare . . .”
Many other shutdowns came, residents endured the dry weekends. Instead of the water situation improving, it has worsened and council is now rationing. Why?
Cholera can, and should, be kept at bay by introducing positive changes to people’s living conditions, particularly through improved access to sanitation and adherence to adequate hygienic practices.
Tackling water and sanitation issues also requires political commitment and support from the highest level.
In response to the latest cholera outbreak, Government has activated a national response mechanism to combat the dual outbreaks of cholera and typhoid as both are spreading to other parts of the country.
President Mnangagwa knows too well the relationship between water and sanitation, and a healthy population. He has already shown commitment to water and sanitation issues.
In his inauguration speech, he pledged to ensure water and sanitation improve.
“There is need for the modernisation and revamping of our social services sector to improve the efficiency and quality of service delivery. My Government will move speedily to refurbish and construct health, education and water and sanitation infrastructure. This is a promise we will deliver,” he said.
Yet, most senior MDC members make ludicrous remarks at a time cholera is indiscriminately killing residents regardless of political affiliation. Their way of responding to the cholera crisis is to politicise it and make the cholera issue fit into their narrative.
On his twitter handle, MDC-Alliance’s Tendai Biti wrote: “It is totally unacceptable that 38 years after Independence citizens are still dying from cholera, typhoid and dysentery. With the crises of legitimacy arresting this Banana Republic, the situation will get worse. We refuse to recognise illegality.”
Dear Mr Biti, just to refresh your memory, MDC has been running the affairs of Harare City Council since 2000 and your party’s deficiencies in service provision contributed greatly to this. You need to restore factory settings, maybe you do not realise people are dying. Cholera chooses no political affiliation and affects every voter whether Zanu-PF or MDC.
Or since you want to blame Government for everything wrong the City of Harare does, maybe it is time the Government took over the provision of water so that your blame can be justified.
As things stand, it is evident that the City of Harare has failed to provide potable water to residents.