Changing lives through the provision of clean water in rural Zimbabwe
By Richard Nyamanhindi
On a Wednesday afternoon in late October, in a ceremony punctuated by singing, dancing and ululating, the Zimbabwean village of Manjolo in Binga, Matebeleland North Province formally assumed ownership of a new borehole that provides clean water for its nearly 6,000 residents.
“Now that we have water, my dream will be to see our children being committed to their studies… without being disturbed by elders sending them to riverbanks to fetch water,” said Chido Mufiri, a villager who has a family living in Manjolo village.
In October, the community of Manjolo officially took over the management of the borehole from UNICEF and the Ministry of Water Resources Development and Management which co-led the rehabilitation of the borehole which had been broken for several years under the DFID Improving Water, Sanitation and Hygiene in Rural Areas of Zimbabwe funded project.
At least four million people in Zimbabwe – about one-third of the population, lack access to safe drinking water. With only a year left before the end date for the Millennium Development Goals, it seems Zimbabwe will not be able to achieve access to clean and safe water for all.
When it comes to water and sanitation, the people in Binga face a myriad of problems, starting with the dry climate in the area. The region’s rainfall levels tend to be relatively low and erratic, with frequent droughts and floods. Other factors affecting water supply in the area include poor resource management, inadequate infrastructure, inefficient use and a robust population growth.
The resulting water challenges present an even more daunting list of problems, including disease, interrupted schooling especially for girls and gender inequality.
According to recent statistics from the Ministry of Health and Child Care, some 120,000 children under the age of five died in 2011 alone and diarrhea caused more than one-third of those deaths.
The Ministry of Health and Child Care says “basic steps” such as hand-washing with soap, expanding access to safe drinking water and sanitation, along with providing other medical services, could save the lives of many of these children. The problem remains: “A majority, six households in every 10, does not treat their drinking water especially in rural areas,” leaving them susceptible to various health problems.
Nationally, the proportion of Zimbabwean households with access to an improved source of drinking water – categorized as a public tape, borehole, a protected well, spring water and rainwater, stands at more than 75 percent, according to the Demographic Health Survey, 2011. However, there are significant disparities between urban households, where 95 percent of people have access to an improved source of drinking water, and rural areas where just 48 percent access safe drinking water.
The lack of access to clean drinking water and sanitation thus affects everyone, but women and children generally feel the greatest impact.
“In our culture and generally around Africa, it is the role of the female members to ensure the family is fed and that there is sufficient water for the family to use,” says Chido Mufiri. “So women bear the brunt of this water scarcity. They are the ones on the front line of these problems.”
Prior to the construction of the borehole, the community in Manjolo used to draw water from the same source with domestic and wild animals. “We were competing for water with the livestock,” says Peggy Masetela, the ward councilor for Manjolo.
In addition, women travelled long distances, sometimes at night becoming rape targets as a result, says Chief Matobeni Mutala. “If they were going to fetch water in some of these far away areas, they had to go as a group for their own safety.”
“Sometimes when it rained, it was not safe for children to go fetch water in the Zambezi River because they sometimes drowned,” added Mutala. Children were also forced to cut study hours short to go fetch water, and schools could not stay open for a full day when there were no toilets or drinking water.
The journey to water independence for Manjolo, to date, has been successful but far from smooth.
As noted by Mr. Walter Musanga an official with the Ministry of Water Resources Development and Management, “Drilling or rehabilitating boreholes and building latrines is not enough. A systematic approach that focuses on quality or building to minimum standards, maintenance and use are equally important and there is need to invest now to save more future lives and impairments of many kinds.”
The ceremony in Manjolo was important symbolically, says Moshake Mobatwana, a tribal leader: “This handover program is very important as it brings awareness to the community that it is their project and not UNICEF or the governments’.”