Zimbabwe faces water cuts amid cholera crisis
U.S. Water News Online
ZIMBABWE, Africa — It sounded like a taunt in a country where water and electricity are cut off far more than they are on.
The crisis is the latest chapter in the collapse of this once-vibrant nation. President Robert Mugabe, who has ruled for 28 years, has refused to leave office following disputed elections in March. And a power-sharing deal worked out with the opposition has been deadlocked for weeks over how to divvy up Cabinet posts.
"We are afraid, but there is no solution. Most of the time the electricity is not available so we just use the water," one resident, Naison Chakwicha, told AP Television News.
Residents of Chitungwiza, a densely populated township 15 miles south of Harare, sued the National Water Authority last week, saying they had been without running water for 13 months, causing an outbreak of cholera and leading to deaths.
Like most of Zimbabwe's main cities and towns, Chitungwiza once had functioning sewage and water delivery systems, but authorities have made no repairs for years.
And the collapse of all services, including refuse collection, has turned the city into a playground for rats that threaten to spread other more deadly diseases.
Garwood said that according to the official toll, 4 percent of people are dying of a disease that usually claims less than 1 percent of those infected and is easily treated with rehydration salts or an intravenous drip.
All the country's main public hospitals have closed and those that continue to operate have little or no medicine and suffer from a shortage of staff, whose monthly salaries do not cover even one day's bus fare to get to work. Costly private clinics, which accept only foreign currency, are out of reach for the vast majority of the population.
Zimbabwe's government, normally hostile to international aid agencies, is welcoming an initiative by several — including UNICEF, WHO and Doctors Without Borders - to provide emergency care and try to ensure safe water supplies.
Health officials, following the line of a government that has refused to declare a national emergency, insisted the cholera outbreak was under control until five days ago. The best advice Health Minister David Parirenyatwa could offer was to urge people to stop shaking hands.
"I want to stress the issue of shaking hands. Although it's part of our tradition to shake hands, it's high time people stopped shaking hands," he told state-run daily, The Herald.
Still, Zimbabweans continue to find ways to deal with the crisis.
Those who can afford it are digging wells and bore holes. Others are buying tanks and pumps to install on their roof or yards, and then paying $50 in foreign currency for a single delivery of 500 gallons of water.
Most vendors in Zimbabwe only accept U.S. dollars or South African rand since the Zimbabwe dollar, once on a par with the greenback, devalues with each passing hour.
Recently, it was trading for 1.8 million to the dollar — even after the Central Bank dropped 10 zeros from the local currency this year in an attempt to keep up with inflation last set officially at 231 million percent in July.
The economic collapse of what was once a regional bread basket followed Mugabe's often-violent campaign, beginning in 2000, to seize white-owned farms and hand them over to veterans of his guerrilla war against white minority rule.
Now, even those who have the money often can't buy water. One supplier told a reporter he has a waiting list more than two weeks long.
Those without foreign currency must turn to "water Samaritans" - residents of Harare's wealthier neighborhoods who have wells or bore holes and are allowing people to fill buckets and jerry cans for free. Some residents are charging for the privilege.
Lines of mainly women and children gather daily outside the homes of people with wells. But even that supply is not assured.
Parirenyatwa, the health minister, voiced the fears of many when he said the cholera epidemic is likely to only get worse with the onset of the rainy season, which began last month and brings the heaviest rains in late December and January.
"What I am afraid of is that now that the rainy season has come, all the feces lying in the bushes will be washed into shallow wells and contaminate the water," he said.
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