By Wongai Zhangazha
AS you enter one of Chitungwiza’s newest suburbs, Manyame Park, a strong stench of raw sewage hits you.
Sewage flows from manholes onto the dusty streets, creating streams and ponds, while swarms of flies hover over the raw affluent which has become a common sight in many suburbs of Chitungwiza.
Making the situation more unbearable, women and children can be seen fetching water with buckets from an open shallow well, just 10 metres away from the sewage. They seem oblivious to the rancid sewage and huge garbage piles nearby.
At the well heavily pregnant 19-year-old Rumbidzai Chitiyo, attempts to fetch water from the well which the residents have aptly named “ku-upstairs” due to the steep incline which one climbs when leaving the well.
For Chitiyo, the well is very difficult to reach, with steep sides, which sometimes collapse. The path leading to the well is also narrow and slippery.
It might be late in the afternoon but Chitiyo, who is six months pregnant, has evidently not bathed. Her white top and black skirt are also dirty, but she has a good reason for this.
“I wake up so early every day to fetch water, it’s now 3pm but I have not bathed yet. I hardly get time to rest and, because we are in the dry season, I’m forced to walk twice the normal distance to get water as many boreholes in my neighbourhood have dried up,” she says.
“Those who have boreholes which have not dried up charge between 15 cents and 50 cents per bucket which I do not have. I have to travel from Zengeza 1 to Manyame to fetch water here.”
Chitiyo says although there are some boreholes drilled by the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) where clean water can be collected, the water points are so swamped that she can spend more than six hours in the queue without fetching any.
“At least here I can get the water with less hassle. I left toilets at home full up to the brim. Flies are all over,” she says.
Febby Tembo, who was in a queue to fetch water at a Unicef-drilled borehole in Zengeza 2, says getting water had become complicated because of bullies who control the boreholes.
The self-imposed controllers are charging residents to fetch water.
“We are so tired of buying water at this borehole. There are bullies from Dahunha Street who control water here.
They fetch so many buckets here and then charge US$1 per three buckets. In these times when there is a cash crisis, where do we get the money from? I have been coming here for a week but I’m failing to fetch water. This is the only place I can fetch clean water otherwise I will have to rely on water with trash, flies and sometimes human waste,” Tembo says as other women interjected, expressing displeasure.
Chitungwiza residents have gone without reliable water supplies for years, putting residents in constant peril of contracting water-borne diseases.
Parts of Chitungwiza such as Seke’s Unit K, P, G and N have gone without running water for two weeks, while areas like Zengeza 1 and 2 have been receiving erratic supplies.
In parts of Seke as well as St Mary’s, raw sewage flows on the streets.
Unsurprisingly, during the 2008-2009 cholera epidemic which killed about 4 000 people, the town was one of the hardest hit areas.
Chitungwiza Community Development Network programmes manager Admire Mutize said the worsening water crisis is disproportionately affecting women and children more than men due to gender-based roles.
Mutize said: “Water is regarded as a women’s concern and problem and this gender bias is reflected by the common sight of groups of women and children carrying heavy water containers daily. Rather than folding its hands and watching the situation deteriorating, we call on the municipality to intervene and ease the suffering by implementing the following practical measures to improve residents’ access to clean water; hire and deploy water bowsers to deliver bulk water to communities; refurbish non-working boreholes and drill more boreholes at suitable sites.”
Mutize said the Chitungwiza Town Council should expedite and prioritise the construction of the town’s own source of water, Muda Dam.
While Chitungwiza has been hard hit, the water crisis is affecting many other areas countrywide due to erratic water supplies as a result of the El Niño-induced drought.
Environment, Water and Climate minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri last weekend said she would soon approach President Robert Mugabe to declare the whole nation a water shortage area.
“This provision, if granted, will allow me to redistribute water resources. Most parts of the country received below normal rainfall during the 2015/16 season, leading to low dam storage levels,” she said.
Muchinguri-Kashiri said Bulawayo’s supply dams, Upper and Lower Ncema, were dry. The city is relying only on supplies from Insiza Dam.
In rural areas, most boreholes have dried up and if this continues, thousands of people and animals will be at risk.
Masvingo dams have the lowest water levels as they average 21%, while areas such as Gokwe, Buhera, Dotito, Maranda, Sun Yet Sen, and Tsholotsho have water tables lower than 100 metres.
Government, through the Zimbabwe National Water Authority, has already implemented emergency interventions in areas such as Nembudziya, Mberengwa, Guinea Fowl, Zimunya and Great Zimbabwe.
Harare City Council early this month introduced a rationing schedule for most medium-density and low-density suburbs. The cuts have been triggered by reduced water levels in the main sources supplying the city, namely Lake Chivero, Harava and Seke Dams.
High-density suburbs such as Glen Norah, Willowvale, Budiriro, Kambuzuma, Dzivarasekwa, Glen View and Kuwadzana endure up to five days a week without water.
Western suburbs receive water supplies during the week and they are cut-off during the weekend while northern suburbs are the worst affected due to their distance from the water source.
As water runs dry in many suburbs and industrial workplaces, there is a high risk of cholera, typhoid, dysentery and diarrhea, as Health minister David Parirenyatwa feared this week.
“We are very concerned about the severe water shortage throughout the country, both in urban and rural areas. People are resorting to using very scarce resources such as shallow wells — some of it is muddy water and one can just imagine what sort of organisms can be found in there,” Parirenyatwa said.
Harare City health director Prosper Chonzi said the water rationing was definitely worrying as people without access to water will look for alternative sources, which may not be protected, triggering water-borne diseases.
“As we speak, there is no cholera yet in Harare. However, we have been noticing an increase in diarrheal diseases especially in western suburbs such as Glen View. In week 41 of the year we recorded 200 cases of diarrhoea with the majority being children under five years. That is the week when the area recorded 23 sewage bursts,” Chonzi said.
“If there is no water and there is burst sewer, people don’t have access to readily available water to wash their hands and as a result food is contaminated. In addition, when there is no water, people will dig shallow wells and when the rains come all defecations in the bushes will go into the shallow wells. As authorities we have to be careful managing this water crisis.”
Public health experts warn that a crisis is looming countrywide owing to the unavailability of potable water supplies.