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Diarrhoea outbreak hits Harare

A little African girl with hands over her stomach symbolizing hunger.

Harare City Council is producing about a quarter of the residents’ daily potable water requirements, with the authorities last week sanctioning a rationing regime amid a diarrhoea outbreak in the capital.

Reported cases of diarrhoea in the city shot up to above 1 400, after the authorities recorded over 300 new infections last week, mainly in the capital’s southern districts, which are known cholera hotspots.

The Government cites the council’s failure to provide clean running water, collect refuse and attend to burst sewer pipes as the cause of the outbreak.

Presently, Harare is producing about 214 megalitres (ML) of potable water at its two main water treatment plants – Morton Jaffray and Prince Edward waterworks – against the capital’s daily requirement of 800ML.

Demand can reach up to 1 300ML if areas currently without water supply are included.

Harare has an installed capacity of producing 704ML, with its old and poorly maintained plants often struggling to produce half of that capacity.

Last week, the council’s Environment Management Committee resolved to ration water as a result of depressed production, raising fears that the development could worsen the diarrhoea outbreak.

The council says it is grappling with a biting shortage of water treatment chemicals, a situation being compounded by increasing levels of pollution in Lake Chivero, Harare’s main water source.

Harare uses up to nine chemicals – including powdered activated carbon, liquid aluminium sulphate (Alum), chlorine gas, hydrated lime, granular aluminium sulphate, calcium hypochlorite (HTH), sulphuric acid, ammonia and sodium silicate – to treat its water.

Council director of health services Dr Prosper Chonzi said 308 new cases of diarrhoea were recorded last week.

“The highest number of cases were reported in the southern district (85) and the areas affected are Sunningdale and Mbare,” he said.

“Sunningdale reported 27 cases across the whole suburb.

“Mbare polyclinic reported 19 cases.

“The second highest number of cases were reported in the south western district (50), with 22 of the cases reported at Rutsanana Polyclinic in the Glen Norah B area, where there have been issues with water and burst sewer pipes.”

He said the situation in other suburbs across the district “remains stable with minimal cases”.

In the west-south-west district, said Dr Chonzi, the authorities recorded 33 new cases last week, mainly in Budiriro 4 and Glen View 4, which had 11 and 10 cases respectively.

“The western district reported 46 cases, with the majority of cases coming from Kuwadzana Extension area.

“Warren Park D also contributed a substantial number of cases (10) and another 10 were reported from Kuwadzana 4.”

The situation in other districts, he added, remains below the alert threshold.

Dr Chonzi said the city must provide uninterrupted water supply, especially in high-density suburbs.

“As health authorities, we are extremely worried about the proposed water rationing in Harare,” he added.

“If this is done, then people will resort to unsafe water sources, which is a health time bomb.”

In an interview, council acting corporate communications manager Mr Innocent Ruwende said the water rationing regime will commence immediately. Ironically, most suburbs have been without water for the past month.

“The Environment Management Committee has resolved that council rations water in the wake of suppressed water production. This is to ensure equitable distribution of water in the city,” said Mr Ruwende.

“Our local aluminium sulphate supplier is facing production challenges, while the delivery of the imported granular substitute has also been inconsistent, thereby affecting potable water production and subsequent equitable distribution to the residents of Harare.

“On Sunday (last week), council received four loads of imported granular aluminium sulphate, with a further 16 loads still en route from Beira to Harare.”

Mr Ruwende urged residents to conserve water.

“Production at Morton Jaffray Waterworks currently stands at 136 ML out of an available capacity of 450 ML and Prince Edward 78 ML.

“All efforts are being made to work out sustainable solutions to the problems.”

Health advocacy group Community Water Alliance Research information and advocacy officer Ms Sharon Kaseke said council must address the city’s perennial water problem urgently to avoid disease outbreaks.

“In response to a diarrhoea epidemic, we call upon the City of Harare to uphold the right to safe, clean and potable water that is guaranteed under section 77(a) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe.

“We learn with great concern that Glen View residents have been denied access to water for three weeks whilst the area is known as a cholera hotspot and that daily water distribution to residents is critical to stop the spread of the disease,” she said.

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