Human Rights Watch has warned that Zimbabwe faces the risk of a new cholera outbreak, caused by the collapse of water treatment and sanitation facilities, especially in the capital Harare and its suburbs.
In a report that coincided with the commemoration of the World Toilet Day, Human Rights Watch said that 70 percent of rural households in Zimbabwe did not have proper sanitation facilities and 40 percent practice open defecation. In 2008, a cholera outbreak in the southern African nation claimed at least 400 lives.
The 60-page report called “Troubled Water: Burst Pipes, Contaminated Wells, and Open Defecation in Zimbabwe's Capital,” describes how residents have little access to potable water and sanitation services and often resort to drinking water from shallow, unprotected wells that are contaminated with sewage. They also defecate outdoors.
Human Rights Watch said this violates their right to water, sanitation, and health. The report is based on research conducted in 2012 and 2013 in Harare, including 80 interviews with residents, most of whom were women, in eight high-density suburbs.
Tiseke Kasambala, the South Africa director at Human Rights Watch, told DW that it was high time the government acted.
Maintaining supplies of clean and safe water is a major problem in Zimbabwe
“Zimbabwe's own constitution has enshrined right to water, right to health. They (the government) should be committing to their obligations: the right to water, the right to health for their country and Harare citizens are amongst them,” he said.
Officials from Zimbabwe's ministry of health said they had not yet seen the report and therefore could not comment on it.
Dr. Portia Manangazira, the Zimbabwean government's chief diseases control official hinted to this reporter that the issue of contaminated drinking water and open defecation was making it difficult to eliminate water-borne diseases such as bilharzias is in the country.
Residents speak out
In Zimbabwe it is mandatory for all residences to have a toilet, but the practice of open defecation is becoming a common phenomenon because of water shortages.
36-year-old Dorica Muzanenhamo, a resident of Harare, is not happy with the failure of city authorities to empty toilets, especially in areas for the poor or low income earners.
Many sources of water in Zimbabwe have been contaminated by human waste
“Our toilets are supposed to be drained since they are now full. But the council has not done that in a long time and such has been the situation in years now,” she said. “You can't eat freely because there are flies everywhere,” she added before spelling out what a breakdown in sanitation actually means.
“Now that the toilets are full, we go to the nearest bush where people have their maize planted. Meaning that, farmers will always find human waste in their fields.”
Her neighbor, 35-year-old Josephine Ngirazi, has had similar experiences.
“When nature calls, we go to the nearby bush. At times we ease ourselves in a plastic bag and then throw it into the bush,” she said, “this is not easy since we stay with children but there is nothing we can do since the toilets are full and there is no water, so open defecation is the better option, but it is not easy at all.”
On its website, the World Health Organization describes cholera as an acute diarrhoeal disease that can kill within hours if left untreated.