The latest scourge to hit Zimbabwe is the deterioration of their water supply in the capital of Harare, resulting in an outbreak of diarrhea disease and cholera.

Cholera is not unknown in Africa: when I worked in Zimbabwe, there was an outbreak from a contaminated well in one rural area, and when I worked in Liberia, we treated cases from the nearby slums that lacked a decent water supply in the capital of Monrovia. But all of this was 25 years ago. Presumably things should be getting better, not worse.

Cholera is a nasty disease, with severe diarrhea and vomiting; but more so. It is one of the few diseases that can kill in less than 24 hours. But the treatment is straightforward: IV fluids, or if the person can drink, you use WHO Rehydration fluid (similar to Pedialyte or Ricelyte).

You also have to isolate the person, since it can spread to caretakers if they are not careful. And there is a vaccine, but it’s not 100 percent protection. The best way not to get it is to make sure all water you drink (or wash your plates with, or brush your teeth with) is boiled or filtered.

Spread via dirty water, cholera, like typhoid and Salmonella, can get into shallow wells or water holes and cause epidemics in rural areas.

But like other diseases that spread via dirty water, it’s presence in a city points to a breakdown of  the city’s infrastructure, i.e. sewers and water pipes.

That is why Harare residents are up in arms against ZINWA, the Zimbabwe National Water Authority. From the Zimbabwean:

ZINWA is struggling to purchase chemicals to treat water. The institution is also failing to finance its wage bill and provide treatment as well as protective clothing to its employees. All this has resulted in low levels of water production in terms of both quality and quantity; while raw sewer bursts remain unattended. The water and sewer crisis in Harare has led to several diarrhea outbreaks.

It is against this background that residents submitted numerous petitions to ZINWA and the Ministry of Water and Infrastructural Development citing their discontent.

Those familiar with third world cities know that the slums often lack sewers, toilets, and clean water.

And small rural towns might not have the expertise to supply clean water and sewage (our town has only had sufficient clean water for about eight years; as for sewers, we have open ditches only).

But Harare’s problem is economic.

No money to fix the pipes, no money to treat the water supply with chemicals so that it is fit to drink, no money for protective clothing for it’s employees, and not enough money for wages.

The worry is if the disease continues to spread. Due to the economic crisis, the health care system is in near collapse, and the government’s ban on NGO’s and aid groups since the end of March until last week has made things worse.

Of course, if Mugabe would simply agree to share power with the opposition group who tied (and probably won) the election, or if he would leave office, things would get better, but apparently lust for power is more important than caring for one’s people.

So the government blames western sanctions, while stopping aid for several months and now permitting it, but setting up red tape to keep NGO’s from helping people who voted wrong in the last election.

And the “international” law types pretend that negotiations will work.

Just keep talking while children die. They’ll die quietly so you can ignore their agony.


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. She writes about Zimbabwe human rights problems at MakaipaBlog. 


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