COVID-19 adds to residents’ water woes

TRACY Muzire of Budiriro, one of Harare’s densely-populated low-income suburbs, has to be up by 4.30am in order to access water at a nearby public borehole that serves thousands of other households in the neighbourhood.


Traditionally considered as hewers of wood and drawers of water, the search for water for domestic use has been increasingly feminised.

Women constitute the biggest number of people crowding the water points, and they invest many hours queuing for the precious liquid. Many households need an average 200 litres of water per day for bathing, cooking and ablution purposes.

With the Harare City Council struggling to provide running water to residents, the outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19) has increased the demand for water.

But with huge numbers crowding the few available water points, implementing social distancing – classified as one of the ways to minimize potential transmission – becomes almost impossible.

According to Muzire, practising thorough hygiene, another recommendation in the fight against COVID-19, was difficult when the little available water has to be spread out over many uses.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has recommended that people should frequently wash their hands with running water or use sanitisers. But for many poor Harare families struggling to access water for domestic use on a daily basis, this is a luxury they cannot afford.

“The water we use on a daily basis is inadequate. The problem is that council is not providing us water,” Muzire said.

She, like many other women in her neighbourhood, has been forced to become “innovative” to preserve the available water.

“We wash dishes once a day so as to save water and the dishes end up not being properly clean, this is one of the challenges we face,” she said.

Over the last few years, the city has struggled to provide potable water to residents, many of whom complain that the water comes out of the taps intermittently and when it does, it has an odour and repulsive greenish colour, making people to turn to boreholes and unprotected shallow wells as sources of water.

International humanitarian organisations Unicef and Water Medicines Sans Frontiers have come to the rescue of Budiriro residents where they sunk boreholes in the area in 2017.

The drilling of the boreholes was an intervention into recurrent outbreaks of cholera and typhoid in the area. These two diseases are primarily caused by drinking contaminated water or eating food that has been infected.

A voluntary worker at the water point in Budiriro, Tsitsi Ngozi, lamented the shortage of water in the populous residential area.

“We last received water from the city a long time ago and this has made funders like MSF to intervene by providing borehole water to the community, but because of the drought, water at the borehole is being rationed to meet the demand,” she said.

Residents said they had little hope that the city would be able to effectively deal with the challenge, and given that the COVID-19 outbreak was now a present reality, it would only take a miracle for the city authorities to provide an instant solution to the water challenges.

Meteorological expert and University of Zimbabwe lecturer, Nyasha Gwenzi, said the country should increase awareness on water problems.

Gwenzi said given that water was supplied intermittently, it was imperative for residents to use it sparingly.

“When water is available, we should make sure that we use it wisely. Due to the low rainfall and climate change experienced, water levels in dams have declined and this has contributed to the reduction of water in most dams around Harare and this has made Zinwa to ration water,” she said.

She called on the government to immediately intervene in helping solve the water crisis, with analysts arguing that it was now more imperative to solve the problem in the face of COVID-19, which could be classified as an emergency.

In November last year, the Harare City Council presented a $4,5 billion budget for 2020, with greater focus on water and sanitation issues.

In January this year, mayor Hebert Gomba told NewsDay said they were looking up to central government to avail foreign currency to purchase water treatment chemicals and ensure the availability of the precious liquid to residents.

“We tried our best, we reduced debts and now are concerned with the need to fund our water and roads programmes,” he said.

“Given a chance, we want to borrow $30 million using City Parking dividends to fund our roads programme, borrow against our budget to fund water rehabilitation.”

But with COVID-19 now a present reality after the country recorded nine cases and one death as of last week, residents are living in fear of the potential spread of the virulent disease while their access to water is severely limited.

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