Zimbabwe: Cholera - Dirty Pandemic, Dirtier Politics

Cholera treatment in Zimbabwe.
17 September 2018
editorial

A pall has been cast over Zimbabwe as the cholera pandemic has ravaged Harare's suburbs with the grim prospects that the outbreak could spread, claiming more lives.

It is like we are back in 2008 when an outbreak of the water-borne disease claimed thousands of lives and affected thousands more.

Then, as now, there was a sad streak to it as the outbreak took place at a time of diminished capacity to contain and banish the disease altogether.

There are two structural issues at play: first, Zimbabwe's health system and, secondly, the management of city council affairs.

The first structural issue should be read in the larger context of the country's economy. Since 2000, the Government has been crippled by a ruinous economic sanctions regime and has been excluded from accessing offshore lines of credit and development assistance.

It will be recalled that when sanctions were imposed, development assistance that constituted 40 percent of the Budget was stopped, leaving Zimbabwe to its own instruments. Most countries in Africa still access this assistance, in some instances up to half their budgetary requirements.

As a result of the economic strangulation, Zimbabwe failed to get enough foreign currency to buy essential requirements, including for the health sector. Local authorities failed to import water treatment chemicals and equipment.

It is a problem that subsists to this day.

Harare's water requires over a dozen chemicals to make it potable, but the local authority is just using a couple of compounds that are not enough to purify the water, some of which is actually recycled waste water.

The results have been evident.

It does not take sophisticated scientific tests to certify the water, dirty and unfit for human consumption: we see it with the naked eye.

The turgid colour and the smell says it all.

Ironically, Harare cannot even regularly supply this sub-standard water.

It is such a tragic farce.

Which brings us to zoom in on the operations of council. The Harare City Council is simply inept and the rot has deeply set, a development that took a turn for the worse when the culture of electing political animals with no craft competency took root.

It is small wonder that the council, with stone throwers for councillors performs badly, a development that former Harare mayor Ben Manyenyeni once decried.

The just ended elections gave us more of the same. What is ironic is that the epicentre of the cholera epidemic is Glen View and Budiriro whose electorate should have known better to take a few lessons from history.

But we are not going to blame the victims.

Rather, we urge all stakeholders to work together with Government to ensure a lasting solution to the crisis. The political representatives of Harare must bear full responsibility and own up, in the same manner they feel good about being elected and running the city -- so badly, even.

Taking responsibility also requires the admission that the opposition has played dirty politics, including begging for sanctions, whose collateral damage we see in the cholera epidemic and other crises.

We are saddened by revelations that some top officials running the city may have previously been involved in parcelling out stands on areas atop sewer systems.

This is a serious matter that warrants investigation. Equally, there is also an allegation that an opposition Member of Parliament in the affected area pocketed money without doing work on the sewer system after getting a tender unprocedurally using her father's links.

This again is a serious matter that may require sanction from authorities. On the whole, some mechanisms need to be effected now to deal with Harare's capacity.

This may include having a special taskforce to oversee the revamping and development of water and sewer infrastructure and in general health facilities that are under council.

This will require both human and financial resources that should be mobilised as a matter of urgency.

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