Act on water supply now

In its new report on the water, sanitation and hygiene situation in Zimbabwe, Human Rights Watch makes a disturbing observation that must surely jolt the government, municipalities and other stakeholders into action.

Paul Bogaert
Paul Bogaert

The HRW report “Troubled Water” was launched in Harare last week. It bemoans the fact that conditions that obtained in 2008-9, when Zimbabwe was hit by a devastating cholera outbreak which claimed more than 4,000 lives, are still present.

“Today, the same conditions that allowed the 2008-9 cholera epidemic to flourish persist: poor sanitation, high-density living conditions, lack of access to potable water, official denial of the magnitude of the problem, and lack of information about the safety of public water supply,” says the report.

This is by no means an exaggeration. The situation is dire and it is only a matter of time before it gets out of hand and people start dying from water borne diseases in big numbers. Most residential areas in Harare and other cities as well as towns are still going for long periods without running water. When it is available, the quality is bad. Many residents are depending on shallow and unprotected wells, and many are being forced to use limited, unsafe water sources.

As this happens, the government and municipalities are in denial mode, quick to deny the demonstrated reality that people are drinking water that comes with human waste, for example. Their inability to educate residents at a sustainable level about how to deal with the severe situation of water scarcity is all too evident. They have chosen to bury their heads in the sand.

This is unacceptable. Wind back to 2008, just before the cholera epidemic became fully fledged. There was a critical shortage of water and sewers were bursting without any action being taken. Again, the government and municipalities chose to turn a blind eye, until people started dying.

One would have thought that we learnt a lesson from this tragic epidemic and should be more pro-active in preventing another disaster. However, there are no signs that any lessons were learnt and there is a glaring absence of political will to right the situation.

All the stakeholders, particularly the government, health officials and municipal authorities, must start searching their souls. The starting point would be to take seriously the recommendations that HRW makes in its report. These include: adequate awareness campaigns, provision of cheap water supply interventions, desisting from disconnecting defaulting residents and the timely collection of refuse.

Post published in: Editor: Wilf Mbanga

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