16 March 2006

Zimbabwe: Pit Latrines a Health Hazard in Cities, Warn Experts

Bulawayo — Zimbabwe's local authorities and health experts have warned that the erection of ventilated pit latrines by the small number of beneficiaries of the country's urban renewal housing project could pose a serious health hazard.

Government has encouraged the occupants of the 150 new houses hastily constructed after the controversial Operation Murambatsvina (Clean out Garbage), which affected hundreds of thousands of people last year, to build the toilets while they await the installation of formal ablution facilities.

But health experts pointed out that the pit latrines were not geared to dispose of human waste in an urban environment and could easily result in the outbreak of diseases associated with poor sanitation, a lack of hygiene and access to potable water, such as cholera and diarrhoea.

Many of the new houses do not even have access to water, and the capital, Harare, is already battling an outbreak of cholera, which has claimed more than 20 lives this year.

Urban councils have also objected to the construction of the pit latrines.

"Government and the housing ministry have said it [construction of the pit latrines] should be done and we are not stopping them, as they will not brook any advice. But this is a sad development for the country, that literally means we are now taking rural life into urban areas instead of vice-versa," said Japhet Ndabeni-Ncube, an official of the Urban Councils Association of Zimbabwe, in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second city.

"The whole process just shows how disorganised the housing programme is," Ndabeni-Ncube remarked.

Government has defended the latrines as a temporary measure. "We cannot watch them [the homeless] live in the open while there are houses, just because there is no toilets and water," said Local Government Minister Ignatius Chombo.

According to the official Herald newspaper, more than 150 houses have been constructed under Operation Garikai/Hlalani Kuhle (Live Well) subsequent to the Murambatsvina campaign aimed at clearing slums and flushing out criminals, which left more than 700,000 people homeless or without jobs, or both.

[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations ]

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