9 September 2013

Zimbabwe: Fears of Disease Outbreak in Harare As Water Woes Persist

Most Harare residents spent the weekend without any water, amid reports that the city's major hospitals were drowning in filth as a result.

Over the weekend Harare City authorities were forced to issue to a statement after residents, who had experienced erratic supplies for a week, demanded an explanation.

The authority blamed maintenance work on leaking valves and pumps at the Morton Jeffrey Treatment Plant for the water shortages.

A Herald newspaper report quoted Harare Water director Christopher Zvobgo saying the repairs were complete and "by Monday everything will be back to normal".

But SW Radio Africa correspondent Simon Muchemwa said it was highly unlikely that the city's water supply will return to 'normalcy' anytime soon.

By Monday afternoon there were indications that most eastern and northern suburbs still had no water, including parts of Glen Norah A.

Muchemwa said unless there was a complete overhaul of the whole water infrastructure the burst pipes and leaking valves and pumps will continue to interrupt water supply.

"The infrastructure that is still in place dates back to the colonial period, and it was meant to cater for less than a million people, not the current three million. The pipes are old and no amount of repairs will fix the natural wear and tear," he said.

"There is also the issue of intermittent electricity supply which is affecting sewerage treatment works, and the amount of water being pumped into main water supplier Lake Chivero.

"Lake Chivero is also downstream, and pumping the water back to residential areas which are located upstream requires a lot of power, which ZESA does not have," Muchemwa added.

Last week Tuesday, the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority, which imports the bulk of the country's power, said it was increasing load shedding, citing ongoing maintenance work at its supplier the Hydro Cahorra Bassa.

Adding to the problems has been the fact that just before the July 31st elections, Local Government Minister Ignatius Chombo ordered the country's local authorities to write off debts accrued by ratepayers between February 2009 and June 2013.

The move, seen by observers as a political and populist move aimed at vote buying by ZANU PF, has left many authorities struggling to provide essential services including purchasing chemicals for water treatment.

On Sunday, a report in the privately-owned Standard newspaper indicated that Harare and Parirenyatwa hospitals were struggling to cope, with visitors now having to take their own water into the premises for patients.

The paper further reported terrible smells from the hospitals' toilets as well as an overspill of human waste, raising fears of a disease outbreak.

Visitors told the paper that they were being forced by circumstances to provide their ill relatives with drinking and bathing water, although this is not allowed.

However, an official at Parirenyatwa Hospital downplayed the problem, saying the water crisis "just like the rest of the city," the Standard quoted Thomas Zigora, the chief executive, as saying.

Zigora added that the hospital had a couple of boreholes and a reservoir to rely on.

But according to Muchemwa, this Plan B is thanks to foreign donor-funded initiatives that responded to a looming health crisis in Harare.

He said: "Last year, agencies such as United Nations Children's Fund and the United Nations Development Programme provided funding for the sinking of wells and boreholes throughout Harare to alleviate the outbreak of waterborne diseases."

Reports say the Chinese have offered the Harare city Council a loan of $144 million to revamp the ailing water supply infrastructure, starting October.

The Harare Residents Trust responded to the news by saying that it hoped the loan "will be used transparently to contribute significantly to the improvement of water supplies, the quality of the water, the distribution network and also the upgrading of the sewerage treatment plant at Firle.

"It is unfortunate that very little is known about this deal between the City of Harare and the Chinese Eximbank, but what is known is that residents will repay this loan at an interest rate above 10 percent."

The current water problems mirror the general state of decline being witnessed in other sectors including education, health and transport infrastructure.

Late last month, President Robert Mugabe caused outrage when he threatened to deprive residents of Harare and Bulawayo of essential services for ditching him in the July elections.

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