Poor water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), including garbage management, directly and indirectly cause under-five, infant and maternal deaths worldwide and also affect the health of older children and adults. Zimbabwe’s economic downturn of 2000-2009 created a capacity gap for managing the aging infrastructure and limited further expansion of services. The collapse of water revenues from the late 1990s led to a decline in all WASH infrastructure and services, including water resources development and management in all parts of the country. This significantly diminished the quality and reliability of services, culminating in the 2008-2009 cholera outbreaks, which resulted in more than 100,000 cases and over 4,000 deaths.
Results from the 2014 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey show that 76 per cent of households have access to improved sources of drinking water. However, this number hides a wide disparity in access to safe drinking water between urban areas (98.4 per cent) and rural areas (67.5 per cent) and also within urban areas. Some parts of Harare, for instance, have not had water supplies for up to five years.
Data from the 2012 National Population Census show that 25% of households do not have any type of toilet facility. The availability of proper sanitation facilities is much higher in urban than in rural areas. MICS 2014 reports that open defecation is at 31.7 per cent, affecting mostly rural areas, where 44 per cent of the population practices open defecation.
The current water and sanitation situation in Zimbabwe is the result of the lack of investment in these sectors during and after the economic crisis of the last decade. Other factors relate to its enabling environment. Legislation and policies on WASH exist but are not fully implemented. There is also a lack of monitoring and evaluation, which has an impact on the overall quality of water and sanitation and on the formulation of adequate strategies and data collection nationwide.
On the demand side, there is no public awareness of water access issues in rural areas as they are rarely covered by the media. Rural water issues are thus concealed from the public and are not brought to the attention of leaders. This is further aggravated by limited stakeholder consultation during preparation of the national development plan, resulting in issues of equity not being given due consideration.
The promotion of hygiene practices has continued to receive inadequate attention despite its potential to save lives in a context of high levels of open defecation and 42 per cent of child faeces being disposed of unsafely. The WASH situation in schools remains very weak, with wide disparities in student-toilet ratios and a majority of rural schools lacking suitable hygiene facilities for girls. One in five schools use unsafe water sources.
UNICEF’s WASH programme aims to improve equitable use of safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene practices. Our key interventions include rehabilitation of water and sanitation infrastructure in urban and rural areas, sanitation and hygiene promotion (including elimination of open defecation in communities and school hygiene promotion, capacity-building to improve WASH sector coordination and efficiency and building more equitable service outcomes and quality, WASH information management system to improve data reliability, equity analysis and use of technological innovations, including emergency preparedness and response, and engagement with the private sector.