Zim sanitation, hygiene standards tumble


Seated within spitting distance from a communal toilet at a backyard food outlet at Mucheke bus terminus in Masvingo, Ernest Moyo has his meal of sadza and beef bones, with one hand inserting a morsel in his mouth and the other fending off pesky flies.

The sight of buzzing flies competing with him for the same plate of food and the uncollected garbage about 10 metres away is not something new. Neither is the reek of raw sewage dumped in adjacent Shashe River.

In fact, he counts himself lucky to be among the fortunate customers who patronise the food outlet to get the “special” dish for the day before it runs out.
This is just one of the sprouting backyard food outlets in the small southern town that offer delicious food and a variety of dishes, regardless of the unhygienic surroundings.

“You will always find flies everywhere. It is in such set-ups that you get delicious food at a customer-friendly price of one dollar. After all, this place offers a wide range of traditional food, ranging from mazondo (cows’ hooves) and dried vegetables, to pork bones, offals, among others.”

Moments later, other hungry-looking patrons also stream in, heading for the fireplace where the food is cooking.

The patrons open rusty pots to choose the pieces of meat they want to eat before barking their orders to an old lady dishing the food.

Similar scenes unfold daily as most entrepreneurs have decided to venture into the catering industry though sometimes most customers who frequent such backyard places patronise them at their own risk.

The annual sanitation week which was recently celebrated under the theme “consolidating our national pride through safe, dignified sanitation and hygiene practices” brought together various stakeholders who spoke about the need for a healthy environment.

Moyo is one of the millions of Zimbabweans who are not even aware of these commemorations. He is also not aware that sanitation issues are part of 10 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set by the United Nations for prioritisation by member countries.
Sanitation falls under MDG 7 which stipulates reduction by half the proportion of people that do not have access to basic sanitation by 2015. It also mentions improvement of hygienic behaviours and practices.

The main focus at the commemorations was on access to basic sanitation and open defecation.
Vice-President Joice Mujuru, who was guest of honour, said focus was given to open defecation and basic sanitation because of the 2007-2008 cholera epidemic that claimed about 400 000 lives and left about two million hospitalised.

“It is against the background of the cholera epidemic that we want to avoid a recurrence of the catastrophe,” she said.

Unicef country representative, Peter Salama, in a speech read on his behalf by Kiwe Sebunye, said poor hygienic conditions result in unnecessary loss of life in the country, especially among children under five.

“Approximately 80% of diarrhoeal deaths have been attributed to poor hygiene, inadequate sanitation and lack of safe drinking water. This scenario creates a vicious cycle of illness, high expenditure on health care, lost productivity and poverty.’
Diarrhoea is the fourth leading cause of mortality among children under five in Zimbabwe, contributing 9% of childhood deaths.

“As stakeholders, it is at such primary levels where we can begin to make practical interventions which aim to mitigate diseases, especially among the most vulnerable groups in society.”

Speaking at the same occasion, deputy Health minister Douglas Mombeshora said although many strides have been achieved in Zimbabwe’s sanitation and hygiene standards, a lot more still needs to be done. He said Zimbabwe had improved sanitation from 5% in 1980 to 43% in 2010.

“In urban areas, coverage was once pegged at 99% in 1990, but has since declined to 40% in 2008.’
He admitted that Zimbabwe is off track in achieving the seventh MDG Mombeshora said while efforts are being made to enhance public participation in health and hygiene matters in a participatory manner, his ministry faces challenges as environmental health is thin on the ground.

“As every other profession, Environmental Health Technicians (EHT) department suffered greatly from the brain drain that the country went through in the last decade,” he said.

He bemoaned the lack of transport for these technicians as their job involved inspecting various locations around the country.

“It is important to note that of the 731 EHTs in service, only 10% are motorised making it difficult for them to operate.”