The cholera outbreak experienced in the country about four years ago emphasised, for villagers here in Chibuwe, the importance of access to clean and safe water.
An ambitious programme which saw the construction and upgrading of over 300 blair toilets and 50 boreholes came as a blessing to villagers like Esther Sithole (59), an elderly woman who used to travel a very long distance to fetch clean water for household use.
“This programme has helped us a lot,” she reflects. “Before we had this borehole here, we used to travel several kilometres to the nearest borehole.”
To tighten safety measures, she says, they have been given water purification pills which they occasionally throw into the borehole as a safeguard.
Her husband, 74-year-old James Makepesi Sithole, said his household, which includes four wives and about 40 children, was miraculously spared the ravages of cholera.
“So the boreholes were more like a preventive measure,” says Sithole, an elder with the Zion Christian Church.
The water and sanitation programme, spearheaded by the Zimbabwe Red Cross Society (ZRCS), covered both households and schools.
One of the benefitting schools, Chibuwe High School, was founded in 1979 by Mutape Phineas Mutorwa Chibuwe and currently has an enrolment of 1 169 students, according to the headmaster Cames Khosa.
“According to our enrolment figures, ideally, we should have 66 holes (for the pit latrines), but we had only 30.
But now they are 34 including the ones built by the Red Cross,” he says.
Thomas Mutonhere, the principal environmental Health technician for Chipinge District, says Ward 20 in the area is low-lying and therefore experiences extremely high temperatures and erratic rainfall patterns.
“This area is close to Save River so when floods are experienced, they leave people vulnerable to the outbreak of diseases such as cholera. The last time when that happened, some people were moved to higher parts of the ward. So they were left with nothing and had inadequate water supplies,” he says.
“That forced them to share water from shallow wells and that meant for three to four years, they were subjected to cholera infections.”
ZRCS trained 66 volunteers in Chipinge under the Participatory Health and Hygiene Education (PHHE) programme which empowers people to establish community-based health solutions to the cholera outbreak.
In turn, the volunteers cascaded the knowledge imparted to them to their communities through health clubs established by the humanitarian organisation.
“The organisation also gave us sanitaryware in 14 schools and 100 households in Ward 20 and Ward 25,” said Mutonhere.
Some of the water sources were damaged during floods that hit the area three years ago. The floods marooned villagers and drowned livestock and wildlife in Middle Sabi as heavy rains pounded the area and the Civil Protection Unit had to deploy rescue teams that included security officers.
Mutonhore said water sources in the area were extensively damaged by the floods and so far, only 38 boreholes in the two wards have been rehabilitated.
Over 700 people reportedly had their homesteads washed away.
“So we have these internally displaced people in the two wards who need education, water and sanitation facilities as well as good hygiene practice,” Mutonhore said.
The primary targets of the programme are those affected by the cholera outbreak as well as those who were internally displaced.
Provincial medical director for Manicaland, Milton Chemhuru, says their relationship with the humanitarian organisation, has had a positive impact in the community.
“(There has been an) improvement of coverage of water and sanitation in the community, especially at Chisumbanje area, which is hard hit with cholera outbreaks,” he says.
He adds that there has also been a reduction in cases of diarrhoeal diseases and improved knowledge in issues related to such diseases. He highlighted the need to continue such fruitful partnerships in humanitarian interventions between the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare and the ZRCS in the province.
ZRCS marketing and public Relations officer, Takemore Mazuruse says their intervention in Chipinge was a response to the cholera outbreak in the area reported this year.
The intervention was made possible through a $300 000 Disaster Relief Fund from the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
“Our intervention was both emergency and developmental,” Mazuruse says. “Emergency in terms of measures we put in place to curb the imminent crisis and developmental in terms of educating the community on how to prevent and respond to future cholera outbreaks as well as upgrading the water and sanitation situation in the project area.”