Cholera outbreak reflects city infrastructure decay

Faith-Zaba.jpg

Faith Zaba

THE recent outbreak of the medieval cholera disease, which has to date claimed 49 lives and infected more than 7 000 people, has brought to the fore the urgent need for the government and City of Harare to deal with the heavily polluted Lake Chivero — the principal water supply source for the capital as well as Chitungwiza, Ruwa and Norton.

Candid Comment,Faith Zaba
fzaba@zimind.co.zw

This can either be by rehabilitating or upgrading the existing infrastructure or looking at new sources of potable water. More than 2,6 million people draw their potable water from Lake Chivero.

The lake was built in 1952 as the principal water supply for Harare and it is located downstream the city which discharges sewage into two of its tributaries, the Mukuvisi and Hunyani rivers. More than 50% of Marimba River’s flow, which also feeds into Lake Chivero, is sewage effluent and for Mukuvusi, it is as high as 56%.

The population growth rate in Harare and surrounding areas has not been matched by infrastructure expansion and rehabilitation hence the pressure exerted on the pipes, which regularly burst. In addition to the pressure exerted by the growing population, alarm bells that the country would face high levels of pollution from raw sewage began sounding as far back as the 1970s.

According to a study titled The Impact of Urbanisation on the Water Quality of Lake Chivero, Zimbabwe, numerous hydro-biological investigations, which were carried out on Lake Chivero in the 1970s, showed that the lake was eutrophic and sewage from Harare was cited as being the major cause. Recent research by several bodies including the University of Zimbabwe has also shown that Lake Chivero is heavily polluted with metals, pesticides and raw sewage, which requires huge finances to rehabilitate for human use. It is not surprising that studies have concluded that Lake Chivero is basically a giant sewage pond due to the extreme pollution levels. While government and several companies are offering new infrastructure to deliver water to Glen View and Budiriro, it is not the long-term solution needed to deal with the problem.

Government, working with the City of Harare, needs to find a holistic and sustainable solution for the Harare water problem. Harare has two major problems concerning water: contamination and lack of a dependable source. Both problems require new sources of water, which means new dams.

The Kunzwi Dam project, which has been on the cards since 1996 after the realisation that the city’s population growth was outstripping its water demands, was supposed to be the panacea to Harare’s water crisis but there is no progress.

In addition to finding new potable water sources, there is also need for the City Fathers to do proper town planning to rid the capital of squatter settlements and also curb river bank cultivation and dumping of industrial waste in water bodies.

Unfortunately, the water crisis is not just a Harare problem but affects virtually all major cities and towns across the country. This means government has to find a comprehensive solution to the problem otherwise the country will continue to face outbreaks related to faecal contamination — a major embarrassment in the 21st century.

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