Zimbabwe’s cash-strapped government is searching for a solution to the recurring problem of water-borne disease.
Getting clean water in some parts of Zimbabwe is a luxury. The country was once tipped as one of the most prosperous in Africa with a rich economy, but the government is currently battling to allocate sufficient finances for water treatment and chemicals. The dire situation has over the years resulted in the deaths of hundreds of residents from water-borne diseases such as cholera. In 2008 the disease claimed an estimated 5,000 lives.
In an effort to address the problem, the government is seeking to emulate other African countries that have taken action to contain the situation. It recently launched a campaign entitled ‘Conserve water and stop littering to save money and the environment.'
The campaign was launched by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai at a ceremony in the high density suburb of Harare, Budiriro. This was one of the areas hit most severely by the 2008 cholera outbreak. The government is hoping the campaign will encourage Zimbabweans to use sparingly the small amounts of clean water to which they have access.
Speaking at the launch, the prime minister blamed the lack of clean water on multinational companies that get rid of liquid waste in rivers which provide water to residents.
"As a government, I think that we must give local authorities the power to arrest and fine anyone who is found dumping waste in our water system. If there is no authority like that we must revisit that," Tsvangirai said.
Lack of finance
There is a need not only for a law to ensure that the water in Zimbabwe's rivers is not polluted, but also for the government to take measures to provide people with adequate water supplies. But this looks like remaining a dream until the country's economic situation stabilizes.
Prime Minister Tsvangirai told the audience at the campaign launch that the government could not increase the allocation of funds for water treatment until the cash flow situation in the country improves.
Amongst the audience was the former Area Councilor for Budiriro suburb, Lovemore Chiito, who held office during the 2008 outbreak of cholera.
He praised the new campaign which he said restored hope amongst the people.
"The government and residents must put their heads together so that this campaign remains on course. We really want people heavily involved in this campaign if it is to succeed," he told DW.
Clean water just a dream for many
For a group of women sitting on a riverbank on the outskirts of Harare, having access to clean water is just a dream. The women chat as they do their laundry. The water looks filthy and the air is full of flies buzzing around. Further down the stream other people are collecting water for use at home. Despite the high risks attached to the use of untreated water, they have no option but to use this water.
One of the women told DW how this situation came about.
"This is water that we have been drinking after standpipes were removed when they stopped delivering water. Many children suffer from stomach ailments as a result of this water from the river," she said.
Not an isolated problem
Zimbabwe is not the only country in Africa that is battling with water-borne diseases. Between June 23 and July 17, 2012 the number of deaths from cholera in Sierra Leone is put at over 60. A statement from the health ministry announced that four areas in the country including the capital Freetown have been declared cholera outbreak areas.
According to a health official, "the outbreak has been traced to unsanitary conditions, acute water shortages in many parts of the country and migration from affected regions."
In Niger, authorities are concerned that a cholera epidemic ,which broke out in January, has now spread to a refugee camp housing Malians who had fled the unrest in the north of their country.