Cholera stalks our streets

HARARE, (IRIN) – Rodgers Matsikidze, a human rights lawyer and resident of Budiriro, a high-density suburb in the capital Harare, told IRIN that persistent sewer pipe bursts had exposed the community to disease, especially cholera.

"Our dilemma is that we have not had running water for close to a month. In addition we had sewer pipes bursting, resulting in untreated effluent flooding most parts of the community. As you can obviously tell, there is an unpleasant smell in the air.

"As to be expected, many residents have dug shallow wells to try and access clean water. The danger is that sewage is seeping into the shallow wells, and with the rains that have been falling, the result could be an outbreak that could be difficult if not impossible to control.

"Right now every home has members who are suffering from diarrhoea. Children are also at great risk, as they are exposed to sewage effluent while playing in the streets."

He said reporting burst sewerage pipes to the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (ZINWA), the water parastatal, never elicited any action.

"When we reported that we had not received water for a long time, the ZINWA people said they were surprised because they assumed we had water. When we told them about the sewer bursts, they said they had not been vaccinated against typhoid to enable them to attend to the sewer bursts.

"According to the Water Act, ZINWA has exclusive rights to sewer and water and that means we can not hire private contractors to attend to our problem.

"When you add water shortages, sewage pipe bursts, electricity cuts, food shortages then you realise the kind of hardships that people are going through in the different communities."

Matsikidze said many residents were being forced to buy clean water from suburbs with water supplies. "Instead of money, we can barter sugar or soap for a bucket of water."

"Of course, there is a lot that can be done and we are working on a class action against the Zimbabwe National Water Authority. To start with, ZINWA is failing to keep its end of the bargain by not supplying clean water when residents are paying rates," Matsikidze commented.

"By not tackling these issues, they are threatening the existence of the community because people have died of cholera, while others have fallen sick. We are seeking to compel the authority to provide services which we have paid for without delivery," he said.

"If they cannot provide the services which we require, then we will seek to have services such as water distribution and sewer management handed back to local authorities, which used to do a very good job."