Incensed Harare says Cholera risk overstated
HARARE has accused an international rights group of exaggerating the risk of a cholera outbreak in the sprawling capital as health minister David Parirenyatwa insisted the government was taking measures to prevent a repeat of the 2008 epidemic which killed 4,000 people.
Human Rights Watch said Tuesday that residents in Harare’s poorest townships have little access to clean piped water and often resort to drinking from wells contaminated with sewage while some must often defecate in the open.
Tiseke Kasambala, the group’s southern Africa director, said many communities are threatened with a cholera epidemic similar to the one in 2008 when more than 4,000 people died from the disease across Zimbabwe as sanitation and water treatment services deteriorated.
Responding to the report Health minister, David Parirenyatwa, said the government was working with the private sector to repair and upgrade the capital’s water and sanitation systems to avoid the outbreak of water borne diseases such as cholera.
“As the Government, we are committed to working with various stakeholders which have to do with water system and sanitation,” Parirenyatwa told reporters in Harare Wednesday.
“We do not want a situation whereby history repeats itself like the 2008/9 cholera outbreak which saw more than 4 000 people losing their lives.
“My ministry is working in harmony with other ministries, particularly that of Environment, Water and Climate so that our people have access to safe potable water to avoid the outbreak of waterborne diseases such as cholera.”
But Harare’s Director of health services Stanley Mongofa accused Human Rights Watch of ulterior motives and insisted that most places in the city were receiving potable water, including an area that was the epicentre of the deadly cholera outbreak five years ago.
“If they say the conditions that prevailed during the 2008 cholera outbreak are still persisting, I would ask – ‘why have we not had a cholera outbreak in the past five years?’” said an incensed Mungofa who was very reluctant to comment on the report.
Human Rights Watch said it produced the report from a research it carried out in 2012 and 2013 in Harare, including 80 interviews with residents in high-density suburbs.
Kasambala said conditions that allowed cholera to flourish in 2008 still persisted in Harare, placing the lives of many at risk of water-borne diseases. The group quoted residents describing raw sewage flowing into their homes and streets from burst pipes.
Mungofa acknowledged that the 2008 cholera outbreak was severe because of the economic meltdown in the country. But since 2009, the macro-economic environment had vastly improved and so were water supplies in Harare.
“I am not aware of Budiriro high density suburb (the epicentre of the 2008 cholera outbreak) not receiving water. So what these people are saying smacks of ulterior motives,” he said.
The report comes at a time when the Harare City Council has signed a $144 million deal with a Chinese company to upgrade its aged water treatment infrastructure. China’s Import and Export Bank is expected to provide the loan.
Upgrading work has already started at the city’s major water works. But the whole project, undertaken by China Machinery Engineering Corporation, will take seven years.
Currently, Harare produces around 600 mega litres of water per day against a requirement of 1,200 mega litres for its 2.5 million residents and another 2 million consumers from four satellite towns.