In Zimbabwe, improving water systems to safeguard children's health
By Tapuwa Loreen Mutseyekwa
SHURUGWI, Zimbabwe, 16 February 2012 – Emily Butau used to wake up every day dreading the task of collecting water for her family. After sending her three children off to school, she would embark on a long journey to find and then carry home water.
“Daily, I join the other women from this community on a 6 km search for water,” Ms. Butau said. All of her other chores were put on hold for this job. “I cannot even find time to undertake income-generating ventures to supplement my husband’s meagre income as I go back and forth in search of water the whole day.”
Even then, the water she collected was not always from safe sources, leaving her children to suffer frequent bouts of diarrhoea.
Zimbabwe’s water and sanitation situation remains poor in both urban and rural areas; nationally, 18 per cent of the population does not have access to improved drinking water sources, and 56 per cent do not have access to improved sanitation facilities. For more than three years, the mining town of Shurugwi has had great difficulty ensuring the constant supply of clean water to all its residents and industrial sites.
Because of a variety of factors – including the absence of water-treatment chemicals, vandalism of equipment and low revenue from service provision – the town has been able to supplies less than half of the water required for the community.
For Ms. Butau, this has meant her children had to share their limited sleeping space with six water storage containers.
Luckily for Ms. Butau and the other residents, the situation is now changing. During 2011, UNICEF, with support from the European Commission Humanitarian Aid Department (ECHO), the UK Aid from the Department for International Develpment (DFID) and the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), has undertaken a massive refurbishment exercise aimed at rehabilitating the water supply system in Shurugwi.
Investing in clean water and children’s health
An investment of approximately US$1 million has enabled the installation of new water pumps at two water sources, Implali Dam and Ferny Creek. The funds have also helped refurbish clarifiers, sand filters and chemical dosing equipment at the Mhanzimdaka water treatment plant. A state-of-the-art facility has also been set up at Mhanzimdaka to regularly and efficiently chlorinate the water that flows into the community.
This has increased the quantity of treated water available in the town by over 70 per cent. Ms. Butau said that since December 2011, there has been an improvement in the quantity and quality of water flowing into their homes.
“The aim of investing in this refurbishment of waterworks is to ensure the minimization of the recurrence of cholera and other water-borne diseases, as was experienced in 2008-2009,” said UNICEF Representative in Zimbabwe Dr. Peter Salama.
With over three years of not having a reliable water supply, Shurugwi residents have refused to pay their water bills in full. The town council is now focused on encouraging bill payment to maintain the improved water system.
“Payments from water bills is our main source of revenue for the town council, but right now we are only collecting 20 per cent of the amount owed to us by residences,” said Town Secretary Solomon Siziba. “We are therefore working on restoring the residents’ confidence in our services and getting a source of income to continue the supply of safe water to the residents.”
“The water looks and tastes clean these days,” said Ms. Butau. She is relieved not because it will ease her workload, but because it will protect her children’s health.
“I can now confidently give my children this water to drink,” she said.