Cholera outbreak points to service collapse

The Zimbabwean government has confirmed the deaths of four people from cholera, and is verifying the cause of death of eight others in the dormitory town of Chitungwiza, 25km southeast of the capital, Harare.

Persistent water cuts, breaks in the sewerage system that allow raw sewage to flow into the streets, and the inability of the local authorities to collect and dispose of domestic refuse have all been blamed for the outbreak. Health officials confirmed that 35 people were admitted to the local hospital for treatment of the waterborne disease.

Chitungwiza town council buys treated water from Harare, but the capital is not supplying its own residents with enough clean water, causing diarrhoea and cholera outbreaks earlier this year after some areas went for more than three months without water.

The state-run Zimbabwe National Water Authority (ZINWA), which is responsible for treating and distributing water, has admitted to pumping raw sewage into Lake Chivero, Harare's main water source, because it could not afford to treat it. Local authorities like Harare and Chitungwiza have not collected domestic refuse from residential areas for more than six months, forcing residents to dump garbage in available public spaces.

Deputy health minister Edwin Muguti, who visited Chitungwiza, immediately banned fruit and vegetable sales by street vendors "to contain the disease outbreak ... What is needed is clean water and proper disposal of human waste."

ZINWA has managed to restore water supplies to some areas in response to the outbreak, and the fire brigade has begun delivering water to homes and clinics unable to be reconnected.

Never ending crisis

Tapuwa Taruvona, who lives in Chitungwiza, told IRIN that the outbreak was an indication of how bad Zimbabwe's political and humanitarian crisis had become.

"No aspect of Zimbabwe is functioning properly. What we need is a new government that will sort out the mess that we are in. If the cholera outbreak is contained it will only be briefly, because water cuts will return, sewage will continue to flow in the streets, while refuse will not be collected."

Precious Shumba, coordinator of the advocacy group, Harare Residents Trust, which promotes good local governance, said: "ZINWA does not have the capacity to treat and distribute water. It does not have the capacity or ability to attend to sewerage treatment, and that is why we have these disasters happening and waiting to happen. ZINWA should allow other players to come in and offer better service to the residents."

Zimbabwe is in limbo after presidential elections in June were won by President Robert Mugabe, the sole candidate, following a boycott by the opposition protesting the political violence that claimed the lives of over 80 of its members.

Mugabe blames the country's eight-year recession on Western powers determined to secure regime change; the opposition accuses the government of wholesale mismanagement and corruption in its bid to stay in power.