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A group of Zimbabweans collecting water from a river
Image: Columbus Mavhunga

Water shortage

Columbus Mavhunga / mc
August 24, 2012

Zimbabwe is suffering from a shortage of clean drinking water. Some Zimbabweans are forced to drink from rivers, exposing themselves to water-borne diseases. Not all suffer in silence.


Deciding "enough is enough" civic organizations in Zimbabwe went round collecting signatures for a petition. 2,000 Zimbabweans, tired of drinking unsafe water, added their names.

The petition was handed to government representatives. It called on them to ensure that all Zimbabweans have access to safe drinking water.

A young cholera victim Picture:. EPA/AARON UFUMELI
Zimbabwe has yet to defeat water-borne diseases cholera and typhoidImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Precious Shumba is one of the signatories. He says there are legitimate grounds for the petition as Zimbabweans have been paying for their water consumption since 2009. He says civic groups are telling the government that they "have had enough of your corruption, your incompetence." Shumba says what is needed is investment in "the refurbishment of water infrastructure."

"Matter of urgency"

Speaking on behalf of the civic groups, Abel Chikomo said addressing the recurrence of water-borne disease in Zimbabwe was a "matter of urgency." He said the government was risking legal action if it did not ensure that all citizens had clean water.

Chikomo even drew a comparison between Zimbabwean government inaction over drinking water and United Nations' procrastination at the start of the Rwandan genocide in 1994. "Waiting a day longer might mean losing 1,000 lives," he said.

One of those who received the petition was the Zimbabwean minister of health, Henry Madzorera. "Water supply remains a serious challenge in our cities and a recurrence of typhoid and other infectious diseases will continue to occur," he told DW.

A young boy fetching water from a river after bathing in Harare, Picture: AP Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi
The petition said all Zimbabweans should have access to clean driking waterImage: AP

No money for water treatment chemicals

Madzorera hinted that it would be helpful if western governments could supply the funds for the purchase of water treatment chemicals. After two decades of economic turmoil, Zimbabwe's social sector, once a beacon for the rest of Africa, has fallen into decline.

Among those protesting against the lack of such a basic necessity as clean drinking water was Simbarashe Moyo, who heads the Harare residents' association.

He says it needs to be established what went wrong, when and how. Local authorities had failed to "arrest the outbreak of archaic diseases that people in South Africa and Zambia no longer talk about."

The "archaic diseases" include typhoid and cholera. They have yet to be condemned to the history books in Zimbabwe, because there isn't enough money available to buy water treatment chemicals. In 2008, a cholera epidemic claimed nearly 5,000 lives. That was when Zimbabwe's economic decline was at its worst. Since then, the economy has started to pick up but, for many Zimbabweans, clean drinking water remains a distant prospect.


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