Zimbabwe: Coronavirus and Water Shortage - a Crisis Within a Crisis

A view of a hand-dug shallow well in a dry riverbed in Zimbabwe's western Nkayi district (file photo)
23 March 2020

For Chido Musanhi, a Harare resident, water shortages have brought a life changing experience as she wakes up around 3am on separate days to fetch water from a nearby community borehole in Harare's Mabvuku suburb.

The suburb is one of the many in Harare experiencing water crisis over the past decade. Amidst the coronavirus outbreak the situation becomes complicated.

"Our situation has been like this for quite a long time. Water taps have long dried and our pleas have been falling on deaf ears. With the outbreak of Coronavirus, the situation is now complicated we have to be cautious but the situation remains trick," said Musanhi.

Part of basic preventive measures to the coronavirus disease as prescribed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) is to regularly and thoroughly wash hands with soap and water.

WHO says "washing your hands with soap and water or using alcohol based hand rub kills viruses that may be on your hands"

Godwin Chirodza of Msasa Park says access to safe water has been a challenge in the suburb and with the Corona virus outbreak the situation becomes dire.

"We have not had running water for over a decade and I can imagine how we are going to adhere to the WHO guidelines on coronavirus. I hope the local authorities will find a way out to this crisis" said Chirodza

As the country confronts the deadly pandemic access to clean portable water becomes a challenge. While efforts have been made to avail water through borehole drilling in most suburbs of the country, it is not enough to contain such diseases as Covid -19.

Community Water Alliance Trust director, Hardlife Mudzingwa said while boreholes provide water it is not enough as people congest the water points.

"Covid 19 require good sanitation, it requires hygiene and access to water is very important when it comes to preventative measures when it comes to this disease. The challenge with a framework where we have boreholes as main access point is that people congest these points and it increases the risk of people contracting the disease.

"Even the directives from the President to say people should not be found in large numbers actually falls away at public boreholes. People also make use of bush pumps where different citizens place their hands on that pump and the effects are quite telling if by any chance or mistake you have someone positive getting hold of the pump," said Mudzingwa.

He said as long as there is no water at household level there is a serious challenge to citizens especially women and young men.

"The challenges of water provision in Mabvuku, Chitungwiza, Hatcliffe, Glen view and other areas have exposed citizens to the possibility of contracting the disease as long as we have boreholes as the main access points and people are not accessing water at household level it will continue to pose a serious challenge.

"Public borehole also do not have sanitation systems such as sanitisers hand washing facilities that actually exposes many women who by virtue of our country being a patriarchal society are confined to non-paying household chores of fetching water," he said

Mudzingwa said "Women who visit these boreholes and young people are vulnerable to Covid -19. The challenge is quite huge and we expect at least water is available at household level it reduces movements, congestion, vulnerable women and young people."

The lack of access to water during this time has multiple effects in the fight against the deadly disease, most people will not adhere to the WHO guidelines thereby exposing them to the disease.

Lack of access to clean water coupled with lack of water in most high density suburbs has been a long standing challenge in the country.

The new coronavirus was detected in China late last year and has spread across the globe and Zimbabwe recorded its first case over the weekend. The widespread cases have prompted many countries to ban travels and public gatherings of more people.

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