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Women, children more exposed to COVID-19 as taps remain dry

Corona Virus
It is day two of the 21-day lockdown, around 5am and it is supposed to be quiet, with everyone at home, observing the lockdown. 

It is day two of the 21-day lockdown, around 5am and it is supposed to be quiet, with everyone at home, observing the lockdown. 

By Cecilia Kamuputa

But the early morning silence is shredded by sounds of wheelbarrows on the move and voices of people already up and about.

The queue at the Caritas drilled borehole in Kambuzuma section 1 is lengthy. 

With schools closed following the shutdown, there are more children in the queue than those found during the school days. 

There are also more women than men, some with babies strapped to their backs. 

It seems like people have brought out all the containers that can hold water from their houses.

Someone sneezes and another one laughingly says “Corona”.

That sparks a discussion on the COVID-19 pandemic that has brought the entire world to its knees. 

Some throw in the 5G conspiracy theory, while others give each other ideas on home remedies to cure COVID-19 and yet there is another group that says these are the end times and this is the beginning of the biblical rapture.

All this plays out while no one is observing social distancing as they queue for the water, sitting on water buckets or standing idly or even when they help each other to manually pump the heavy borehole.

Kambuzuma, one of Harare’s high density suburbs, regularly experiences water cuts. 

With the COVID-19 pandemic spreading exponentially globally, lack of access to clean and safe water is a ticking time bomb, exposing the entire suburb not only to COVID-19 but also to typhoid and cholera. 

With the Ministry of Health and Child Care in Zimbabwe reiterating the World Health Organisation’s directive to frequently wash hands with soap and running water, most residents anticipated getting uninterrupted running water from their taps for the first time in eons, but after day one of the lockdown, it quickly dawned on them that they would not be so lucky.

The choice was to either stay at home with no water to wash hands as directed as well as to use for cooking, cleaning, bathing and drinking or to risk their health and go in search of the precious liquid.

Water collection is primarily the responsibility of women 15+ years (79%) (ZimStat Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey of 2019). 

This exposes them, not only to infectious diseases but to harassment and other health related problems. 

According to The Journal of Gender and Water Volume 4 of 2017 on The Impacts of Water Shortages on Women’s Time-Space Activities in the High Density Suburb of Mabvuku in Harare, medical research has documented some of these ailments ranging from chronic fatigue, spinal and pelvic deformities to effects on reproductive health.

According to Section 73(1)(a) of the Constitution: “Every person has the right to an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being.”

With the prevalence of the coronavirus globally, the environment is unsafe or harmful and for people to be safe, they need to stay home. 

However, they cannot stay in because they have no running water for use in their homes. 

Thereby, the state is not protecting its people from harmful environments as provided for by the Constitution.

Obsolete infrastructure coupled with a ballooning urban population, high levels of pollution and drought has made it hard for the many town and city councils to provide clean and safe water to residents. 

Old equipment at the water treatment facility

In the ZimStat Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey of 2019, 87% of urban households and 54% of rural households were without water on premises, spending between 31 minutes to three hours trying to fetch water.

“In Chitungwiza, Seke Unit B, it’s been months since we last received a drop of water from the taps. 

“Only boreholes and wells (have water). 

“It is really a struggle. 

“And worse still, we have no electricity in the area I stay. The transformer blew up almost a year ago but, not yet repaired,” one of the readers we polled when researching for this article commented.

“More than 10 months no water in Hatcliffe only bills are coming after a seven-month sabbatical, smart city,” posted another.

Shortage or lack of water in households hinders the drive to curb the spread of COVID-19 as most households will not have the luxury of washing hands as frequently as required. 

According to Pahwaringira, Chaminuka and Muranda-Kaseke, 2017, this also affects various household activities, time for socialisation, prevalence of waterborne diseases, and personal hygiene.

Section 77 (a) of the Constitution also stipulates that: “Every person has the right to safe, clean and potable water.” 

Potable relates to water being safe to drink.

Another key element is that the water has to be portable.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines portability as something small and light enough to be carried or moved easily. 

Looking at the situations in most suburbs in Zimbabwe, with the increase in households, people are travelling for longer distances to fetch water, meaning the water is no longer portable.

Portability would have worked if they were able to get water from their taps in their homes.

The right to life, as provided for by Section 48(1) of the Constitution is also violated if people do not have access to water and are also exposed to infectious diseases in the search for clean water.

In 2019, the Harare City Council received aid from the HigherLife Foundation, The Zimbabwe Multi Donor Trust Fund and the government for the improvement of its water treatment plants, pumping equipment and sewer rehabilitation.

In the address to stakeholders and residents at Town House, Harare Mayor Hebert Gomba said the first of the three phases at Morton Jaffray Treatment Works and pumping equipment was being overhauled using part of the ZWL$72 million China Exim Bank loan facility.

However, suburbs are still experiencing acute water shortages even during a pandemic as fatal as COVID-19.