Zimbabweans fear cholera outbreak amid drought

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The water crisis facing Zimbabwe’s capital Harare has sparked fears of an outbreak of diseases such as cholera, which led to thousands of deaths less than a decade ago.

Hit by severe drought, low reservoir levels and a crumbling water supply infrastructure, wide swathes of the city are now restricted to running water two days a week and have become reliant on potentially polluted sources for everyday use.

The drought has seen rivers, boreholes and wells dry up, often because of poor farming practices and building on wetlands, as well as one of the hottest summers in recent years.

‘We are very concerned about the severe water shortage throughout the country, both in urban and rural areas,’ Health Minister David Parirenyatwa told Anadolu Agency. ‘People are resorting to using very scarce resources such as shallow wells — some of it is muddy water and one can just imagine what sort of organisms can be found in there.

‘Our worry is that if flash rains come this is what causes diarrhoeal diseases such cholera, dysentery and typhoid.’

According to government meteorologists, Zimbabwe is experiencing its highest temperatures since the 1960s, around 4C (7F) higher than average. In Harare, the mercury reached 39C (102F) on 17 October.

As water storage levels fell to two-thirds of their usual average, many Harare residents have been forced to turn to unclean water sources as well as UNICEF-funded boreholes and, if they can afford them, ‘water poachers’ – illegal water suppliers that charge the wealthy up to $100 for a steady supply of clean water.

The ‘poachers’ are accused of stealing water from reservoirs managed by the Zimbabwe National Water Authority under cover of night for sale to desperate residents, undercutting firms who pay the authority for their supplies.

The crisis is overshadowed by memories of 2008/09, when more than 4,000 Zimbabweans died from cholera due to unclean water – one of the worst outbreaks recorded in sub-Saharan Africa, according to UNICEF.

The drought is the worst since 1991/92, when southern Africa was struck by widespread crop failure, food shortages and extreme famine.

Environment Minister Oppah Muchinguri said below average rainfall in 2015/16 had reduced dam storage level while high temperatures had triggered high demand, causing municipalities to introduce water rationing.

‘We are living dangerously as a country and I wonder if we should consult church prophets for our behaviour to change,’ she said.

This story was sourced from the World Bulletin website.

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