Water crisis, filthy toilets expose Zvishavane residents to Covid-19

A health hazard is looming in Zvishavane, Midlands province, where the residents who use public toilets and communal bathrooms have raised concerns over the state of the facilities which they say go for days without being cleaned because of water shortages.

This is happening at a time when there are speculations that a second wave of the Covid-19 could hit the country as cases of the deadly pandemic have been on the increase of late.

Investigations done by CITE revealed that the situation is a ticking time bomb for diseases such as Cholera, Typhoid and the Covid-19 pandemic.

The residents in areas such as Kandodo say the communal toilets and bathrooms have not been maintained and treated for a long time.

“The communal toilets and bathrooms are not safe for human use. We have even moved to construct temporary bathrooms at our homesteads to try and solve the problem on our own,” said one Julian Moyo.

Another resident Josephine Maromo added that the state of public toilets combined with water shortages is a big challenge.

“We have even resorted to using bush toilets but now it’s the rainy season, we can easily contact water borne diseases. It’s a death trap,” Maromo said.

According to the residents, the toilet and bathroom facilities also do not accommodate persons with disabilities, and some who cannot walk have to crawl into the toilets, putting them at more risk of contacting diseases as the toilets sometimes go for about two weeks without being cleaned.

The residents also lamented the severe water shortages in the area.

“We are being ordered to pay RTGS$1000 for water which we rarely have. At the end of the day we walk long distances to fetch water and we share the communal pump with a lot of other people,” said Regina Mukarati.

Shyline Mutombo, another resident, said they are always overcrowded at the communal pump.

“Too many people use the water pump, there is no social distancing, hygiene levels are very low. It’s a health hazard,” she said.

Lack of running water and sharing of bathrooms and toilets are challenges that have been ongoing for years in Kandodo, thereby creating conflicts between the residents and Shabanie Mine authorities who are responsible for maintaining the structures in the high density suburbs.

Shabanie Mine, which was considered one of the best asbestos producers in Africa, which together with its sister subsidiary mine – Gaths, which used to produce a total of 150 000 tonnes of chrysotile fibre per annum, closed its operations in 2007 due to a myriad of challenges.

Repeated efforts to revive the mine have failed and the mine facilities including housing and sports facilities, water and sewer reticulation system have suffered from lack of maintenance over the years.

Water shortages also stretch to other high residential suburbs in the mining town which include Maglaz, Lot 4, Makwasha and Mandava, which almost always go for weeks without running water and forces residents, especially women, to queue for the precious liquid with minimal observation of social distancing and other COVID19 regulations.

Even in large cities like Harare and Bulawayo, water shortages have become a permanent feature.

Women are always the most affected by such issues because of their gender responsibilities as primary care givers.

Issues of poor sanitation and housing shortages have been going on for years in the mining town, and in areas like Mandava and Kandodo, large families live overcrowded in small matchbox houses as authorities continue to play the blame game when it comes to taking responsibility for fixing the situation.

In that light, community based organisations called for responsible authorities to timely act on the grievances of residents.

“It all comes down to the issue of transparency and accountability in Public Finance Management. If this is addressed then issues of water and sanitation in communities can be dealt with. Poor social services delivery is a sign that public resources are being mismanaged hence unclean public toilets.

Women suffer the most because their children visit these toilets risking their health. Local authorities must look at these issues with gender lenses to lessen the burden on women. The responsible office bearers must perform their duties efficiently also giving feedback to communities through community meetings on the developments with regards to health issues,” said Millicent Nhutsve from Hands of Hope Trust.

Womandla Foundation co-founder Tracy Burukai shared the same sentiments as she said water and sanitation are critical parts of women’s livelihoods.

“It’s sad that there are still people fighting for a basic rights such as clean water and sanitation. It’s even more frightening given that we are living in the COVID-19 Era and one of the ways to protect one’s self is to wash your hands with running clean water. The issue needs to be addressed post haste as it’s not healthy for these households to live under these conditions. SDG 6 calls that we ensure that everyone has access to clean water and sanitation. Action towards rectifying this should be of utmost importance,” said Burukai.

Meanwhile, Zvishavane Residents Association is on record challenging town council authorities to rectify the water challenges and poor sanitation currently looming in Zvishavane, as the association says the situation is getting out of hand.

Zvishavane Town Council chairperson Khulekani Ndlovu said the state of communal bathrooms and toilets is Shabanie Mine’s responsibility.

“We always face challenges in helping the Kandodo community and maintaining the structures because there is no memorandum of understanding between us and the mine,” said Ndlovu.

He added that they requested for Kandodo residents to pay water bills because they were getting water for free, saying that as the council they can only answer to water shortages which they are currently resolving.

“The issue of communal bathrooms is not our responsibility, but if we establish an MOU and the mine surrenders everything to us, we will see how we can be of help,” Ndlovu said.

District Development Coordinator for Zvishavane District Darling Chokera, however, implored the town council authorities to address issues of sanitation and hygiene, though he said the district has not been recording any increase in Covid-19 cases .

“Housing and sanitation is the responsibility of the town council. We haven’t been having any cases of coronavirus lately but still the challenge has to be addressed,” said Chokera.

Meanwhile, statistics released by Midlands Provincial Medical Director Reginald Mhene indicate that the province is recording an increase in cases of the global pandemic, with 912 cases recorded as at 10 December 2020.

The data also shows that at least 5 new cases are recorded everyday in the province, and with the relaxed COVID-19 restrictions the virus could easily spread to possible hotspot areas like Zvishavane.

Source: Centre for Innovation and Technology (CITE)