|© Tsitsi Singizi|
|Twice each day, Emily Ncube, 72, travels five km with a 25-litre bucket of water in order to ensure that her four grandchildren have safe water.|
By Tsitsi Singizi
BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe, 14 November 2007 – Twice each day, Emily Ncube, 72, struggles to hoist a 25-litre bucket of water onto her head. It is a gruelling chore for the frail women but a better option, she says, than making another trip to the clinic with a sick grandchild.
“I look after four orphaned grandchildren,” said Ms. Ncube. “Last week, the smallest one, Nobuhle, had a serious stomach ache. I know it was caused by the water from the nearby wells. That water is not clean.”
The water and sanitation situation in Zimbabwe’s second largest city is dire. Residents of Bulawayo have access to just one-third of the globally accepted 20-litre minimum for daily water usage – a situation that is complicated by nearly four years of drought, economic difficulties and the AIDS pandemic here.
Families desperate for water
Long queues at the few functioning water points can be seen as early as dawn. After school, children with huge containers line up to collect water for the next day’s supply.
As desperate residents seek alternative sources of water, unsafe shallow wells are being dug in many of the city’s high-density suburbs. Meanwhile, sanitation conditions have become threatening because, lacking water, residents can no longer use the latrines in their homes.
Unsurprisingly, incidents of diarrhoea are rising as a result of contaminated water and poor hygiene.
Improving hygienic practices
“Where there is a lack of safe water and sanitation together with poor hygiene practices, conditions become hazardous for women and children,” said UNICEF’s Representative in Zimbabwe, Dr. Festo Kavishe. “Illnesses and diarrhoea outbreaks such as these significantly contribute to child mortality.”
According to the Bulawayo health authorities, more than 2,500 cumulative cases of diarrhoea have been reported since the end of August, an average of around 40 per day.
In response, vital information on hygiene and diarrhoea is being circulated to improve hygienic practices in the community.
Provision of safe, clean water
With assistance from the Canadian International Development Agency, the UK Department for International Development and the Swedish AID Agency, UNICEF continues to work to improve the situation in Bulawayo.
Working with a coalition of non-governmental organizations based in Bulawayo, UNICEF has drilled 10 boreholes and is rehabilitating 75 others.
Seven 10,000-litre water tanks have been provided to some of the city’s schools. Oral rehydration salts to treat diarrhoeal dehydration, water treatment tablets and washing soap have also been distributed.
“We’ve worked around the clock, but there remains a need for investment in a much more sustainable water and sanitation system,” said UNICEF’s Officer-in-Charge of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, Maxwell Jonga.