27 July 2012

Zimbabwe: Typhoid and Cholera Return

Photo: IRIN
Residents walk past raw sewage.

Harare — More than 100 people in the Zimbabwean capital Harare and Chitungwiza, a dormitory town 35km southeast of the city, have contracted typhoid this month, and the dilapidated water and sanitation systems are again being blamed for another round of water-borne diseases.

According to health officials cited in the local media, 83 cases of typhoid have been confirmed in Chitungwiza and a further 28 in Harare, of which 25 were linked to a supermarket in the Avenues area of the city centre.

Portia Manangazira, the chief disease control officer in the Health Ministry, told IRIN that in June 22 cases of suspected cholera, 10 of which were confirmed, were reported in Chiredzi - a town in Masvingo Province close to neighbouring South Africa - and one confirmed case of cholera was reported in Manicaland Province, which borders Mozambique.

"We are monitoring the situation very closely to make sure the cholera does not spread. The health sector is on high alert," she said.

A year-long outbreak of cholera in 2008 killed more than 4,000 people and infected about 100,000 others and since then there have been regular outbreaks of waterborne diseases in both urban and rural areas. In January 2012 about 900 Harare residents were diagnosed with typhoid, but no fatalities were recorded.

Harare's daily water requirement is estimated at about 1,200 million litres, but the city only has the capacity to provide on average about 620 million litres daily, forcing residents to find alternative sources.

Shallow wells

Elizabeth Tembo, from the Harare township of Mabvuku where three people contracted typhoid, told IRIN: "Water supplies in this part of the city have been unreliable for many years and this has forced us to dig shallow wells. Unfortunately, those areas are also used by residents to relieve themselves because toilets do not have running water," she said. In the past decade or so, sanitation coverage in the city has fallen from 95 percent to about 60 percent, according to health officials.

However, there are also health concerns related to reservoirs supplying the city and other nearby urban areas. Harare's town clerk, Tendai Mahachi, announced recently that a sanitation plant in Norton, a satellite town 40km west of the capital, had discharged 10 million litres of raw sewage into Lake Manyame, while industrial effluent and raw sewage had been discharged into Lake Chivero.

Donors have been supplying water treatment chemicals to urban and rural municipalities, but this support was scheduled to end in March 2012.

The government announced recently it would spend US$60 million rehabilitating and upgrading water and sanitation systems nationally, including in Harare, and part of that money would also be used for road repairs in areas affected by water-borne diseases.

Precious Shumba, director of Harare Residents Trust, an NGO campaigning for better municipal service delivery, told IRIN: "That figure of US$60 million might just cover part of what is needed to overhaul the Harare city water and sewerage reticulation system. We have reached a stage where we need to urge central government to prioritize the rehabilitation or complete replacement of all outdated systems in order to ensure that residents throughout the country have uninterrupted quality water."

He said failure to comprehensively address Zimbabwe's water and sanitation needs would ensure the cycle of "easily avoidable" water-borne diseases continued.

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

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