The government of Zimbabwe has declared the cholera outbreak in Harare a state of emergency as numbers of people dying or falling sick from the bacterial infection rise. By mid-morning yesterday, 20 people had been confirmed dead from the latest cholera outbreak, the Herald established.
Over 2 300 suspected cases have been recorded in Harare alone.
Chitungwiza, Midlands, Manicaland, Masvingo and Mashonaland Central provinces are all reporting cases of the epidemic, although all the cases so far have been traced to Harare.
Speaking to the media, incoming Health and Child Care Minister Dr Obadiah Moyo said declaring the outbreak an emergency allowed the State to quickly mobilise resources to contain the disease, adding that Harare was the source of all cases reported countrywide.
“We are declaring an emergency for Harare. This will enable us to contain cholera and typhoid in the city as quickly as possible. We do not want further deaths, so if we do not create this disaster emergency situation, we will continue losing lives.”
Dr Moyo took a swipe at Harare City Council which he said had failed to attend to sewer bursts in Glen View for the past two months, resulting in the contamination of boreholes.
“Someone slept on duty and this is one of the problems we must tackle as Zimbabwe. People must work. This whole problem is a result of blocked sewers and these were reported but were never repaired for at least two months. Now we have the whole of Glen View and Budiriro being affected,” he said.
He said while he would seek an audience with Local Government, Public Works and National Housing Minister July Moyo on a permanent solution to these recurrent challenges, they had agreed with Harare Mayor Herbert Gomba to immediately clear all sewer blockages.
Dr Moyo said they were also clamping down on illegal food vending with the assistance of the police.
He said development partners were assisting with the provision of water bowsers, medical supplies and other non-food items.
“We have a problem, which has to be solved. We need to improve services so that we stop the number of people dying from cholera. There must not be deaths at all,” he said.
Mayor Gomba has pledged to fight the outbreak.
“We are working on responsibilities that fall within our mandate but there are also other responsibilities that lie outside our mandate, which Government should also chip in to assist. For instance, for us to collect garbage, we need refuse trucks but we are failing to get foreign currency from the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe to get our refuse trucks, which have been in South Africa for the past 10 months,”
said Mayor Gomba.
An editorial piece featured in the daily tabloid the Newsday has implored that the government must deal with underlying causes of the cholera outbreak if history is any prologue.
“Something is clearly wrong with Harare water and has been since the turn of the millennium,’ the paper wrote.
The debate about the quality of the drinking water in the capital has been going on for the best part of nearly two decades. In 1998, then executive mayor Solomon Tawengwa− late − had to choose between building a mayoral mansion and fixing the capital’s water problems. He chose to build the mansion, which eventually cost Z$65 million (about US$5,7 million), the paper continued.
By November of the same year, Harare was experiencing sporadic water cuts and the city’s public health facilities, sanitation, hospitals and other public infrastructure were falling into decrepitude. City workers were getting paid sporadically. But work continued unabated on the mayoral mansion.
Somehow the city did not suffer from any major disease outbreak. Tawengwa died in 2004 and was declared a national hero, with then President Robert Mugabe telling mourners that the former mayor had stood for social justice, social welfare and economic empowerment for the marginalised without a hint of irony.
Meanwhile, Harare has never recovered from his misjudgment, and it did not help matters that successive city administrations have failed to address its water problems or improve infrastructure,
As Zimbabwe fell into a comatose during the hyperinflation era for the best part of the decade to 2009, Harare’s problems persisted.
The city stopped collecting garbage in most areas. Effluent from burst pipes started to flow freely on the streets, as is the case now. Then in 2008, Zimbabwe suffered its biggest cholera outbreak, when 4 500 people died and another 40 000 were treated after being infected. It was Africa’s deadliest outbreak for nearly two decades. Since then, Zimbabwe has remained a cholera hotspot.
Some areas of Harare have not received council water for over 20 years and these rely mainly on borehole water, stated the paper.
In January last year, former Health Minister David Parirenyatwa said 95% of boreholes in the city suburbs were contaminated with faecal matter, with users at the risk of infection. The same applied to bottled water as some companies were bottling borehole water. No one in government and the city administration has taken action, mainly citing financial constraints.
The outbreak is because burst sewers in Budiriro and Glen View suburbs contaminated water in boreholes and open wells used by residents in these areas. These are long-standing problems that authorities have ignored.
Meanwhile, Harare’s wage bill has remained unsustainably high since the turn of the millennium and currently chews 64% of its income. The city is massively recruiting again, with the wage costs expected to rise above 80% of its city revenue. Service delivery, meanwhile, remains on the back burner and the city’s residents remain at grave risk.
Lessons have not been learnt by the city or government, it concluded.
Now, back to the Church.
As we cheerlead it speaking on political, economic and related social matters, we would also love to see it speak on serious health matters as the cholera outbreak, whether it’s statements, prayers, a word of encouragement, prophecies, suggestions or even assistance.
We have seen the Catholic church being involved in DRC where there were outbreaks of the deadly Ebola infection.
The same should happen in Zimbabwe.
A silent church will always abandon the very ones God holds precious. In fact, a silent church is no church at all. God was certainly not silent in the face of crisis, neither should be his flock.
Resources: Herald, Newsday
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