REVELATIONS by greater Harare residents about the use of the bucket system can only point to a city in crisis.
The ghost of 2008, where more than 4 000 people died while more than 100 000 were infected by cholera, has come back to haunt the people, particularly with reports of ageing infrastructure, contaminated water and in some cases non-availability of the precious liquid in most suburbs.
Three decades after independence, people are exposed to the bucket system and some are now defecating in plastics, a recipe for a health disaster that, if not tamed, can be much more devastating.
Situations on the ground show that the dysfunctional sewer system, with sewage finding its way into water sources, heavy industrial pollution and a seemingly carefree authority is all what 2008 needed to turn into a cholera-filled year.
Residents, as evidenced by Christine Changaire from Chitungwiza, are living in fear of another cholera outbreak.
In St Marys, the bucket and plastic systems are popular not out of choice for residents, but out of desperation, thanks to council’s failure to provide the basic human right, water.
“We do not have working toilets here. Sewage blocks daily, the pipes are worn out and people take water from contaminated sources. People excrete in plastics and throw them away,” Changaire said.
Children in the streets of Chitungwiza can be seen playing football and if their plastic balls find their way into streams of raw sewage, they pick them up and continue with the “beautiful” game as if nothing has happened.
“The children are most exposed because they go and eat without washing their hands. They don’t have water to do that and are bound to fall sick,” Primrose Chitando added.
Cholera is a waterborne bacterial disease that infects the gastrointestinal system, causing vomiting and diarrhoea that can lead to acute dehydration.
If left untreated, the disease can kill within 24 hours.
Like it was in 2008, the epidemic started spreading from Chitungwiza on August 27, with the next case being reported in Harare four days later before spreading to other parts of the city, country and region.
Six years later, the same situation prevails, no running water, residents defecating in plastics and buckets and streams of raw sewage.
Prosper Chonzi, the City of Harare director of health services was quoted as saying residents were at risk of brain damage as water being pumped now may in the long run cause cancers blaming that on industries that are polluting the water.
“The water has chemicals coming from fertilizers among other things and heavy metals such as mercury, magnesium and lead among others,” Chonzi was quoted as saying.
“These may in the long run cause neurological problems — affect brain development, lower IQ and also cause cancers.”
Chonzi’s admission can only confirm the fears of Harare residents that the water subject was not being treated with the seriousness it deserves from council and government.
What further infuriates residents are reports of looting by council officials who decide, for whatever reason, to purchase luxury vehicles purportedly for the Morton Jaffray water project.
“It’s cruel, very cruel to say the least,” an irate resident Henry Mlambo said, commenting on reports that more than $2 million was spent on purchasing project vehicles for town house officials.
Town House officials clandestinely bought 21 vehicles, a Range Rover Vogue, Land Rover Discovery 4 SUVs and twin-cab vehicles for the project.
They got support from Local Government minister Ignatius Chombo who said the officials deserved the vehicles and there was nothing sinister about their purchase.
While the cholera outbreak in 2008 began in Budiriro, indications on the ground are that the Mabvuku crisis could degenerate into a health crisis and if that happens, the whole of Harare will be on fire.
So far 900 cases of diarrhoea have been detected and treated in Mabvuku as a result of people drinking dirty water.
Such cases have been reported in Chitungwiza, Highfield, Dzivarasekwa, Budiriro and other suburbs that have gone for years without water.
Many have now resorted to contaminated sources for the precious liquid.
“A quick survey conducted revealed that the outbreak emanates from the inefficient supply of clean water and the use of unprotected water sources by residents,” Combined Harare Residents’ Association said.
Experts have confirmed on several occasions that Harare water sources including Lake Chivero and Manyame were contaminated by raw sewage being fed into them. The panic by central government also reflects lake of confidence in succeeding in the fight only spelling doom for residents evidently under siege and surviving “by the grace of God”.
Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa’s speech during the launch of a local news agency in Harare was less inspiring on water.
He said : “Every economic reporter should know that there is a water problem. The former [Harare] mayor Muchadeyi Masunda is here; he tried, but left the problem unfinished. Let’s not apportion blame, it’s too late for that. The situation is already there and the reality is there is no water even in leafy suburbs like Borrowdale and that can’t be addressed overnight.”
Chinamasa said water problems, even though the solution lay under the economic recovery plan — the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Adjustment [ZimAsset] — would take longer than expected.
Former Finance minister Tendai Biti said the Zimbabwean government had failed, taking Zimbabwe back to the “dark days”.
“It has been a failed 34 years since Zimbabwe got its independence in 1980. Our lives have gone to the era of 1958. We have no electricity, we have no water. We have got a national crisis and we cannot stand by and watch,” Biti said.
Experts said the principal cause of the 2008 outbreak was lack of access to safe water in urban areas and communities.
“This was exacerbated by the collapse of the urban water supply, sanitation and garbage collection systems, along with the onset of the rainy season leading to faeces with cholera bacteria being washed into water sources, in particular public drains, as well as providing readily available but contaminated water,” according to a research on what led to the cholera crisis in 2008.
A sign of hope is that President Robert Mugabe knows of the crisis judging by his statement on water and how it was a serious issue to him.
He said: “The water issue is an issue we’re aware of and the issue of pollution. It’s an issue that pains us as government and we have discussed it and action is being taken. A committee has been set up to look at cities’ water and sewage excrete as an act of emergency.
“These are very urgent issues that must be managed quickly because any delay in managing them would result in some of our people being affected by diseases and some deaths naturally will result from that.”
At least the highest office on the land is aware of the crisis, but the multi-million dollar question is whether he would do something to stop the disaster.