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Rights Group Fears Waterborne Diseases Looming in Harare

Residences of Mabvuku fetch water from unproteacted sources in Harare, Zimbabwe, July 28, 2012.
Residences of Mabvuku fetch water from unproteacted sources in Harare, Zimbabwe, July 28, 2012.
Human Rights Watch is expressing fears that Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, will be hit by another outbreak of waterborne diseases unless authorities improve access to safe drinking water and proper sanitation.  A cholera epidemic in 2008 killed more than 4,000 people.

The New York-based rights group said a looming water and sanitation crisis in Zimbabwe’s capital places millions of residents at risk of waterborne diseases.

In a report entitled Troubled Water: Burst Pipes, Contaminated Wells, and Open Defecation in Zimbabwe’s Capital  Human Rights Watch said residents faced an increased threat from cholera, dysentery and similar diseases unless the water and sanitation situation was fixed.

Tiseke Kasambala is the Southern Africa director at Human Rights Watch. 

“The water and sanitation in Harare is very, very serious.  As you might recall, in 2008, there was a serious cholera crisis that killed thousands of people.  And we are concerned, we recently heard of a typhoid outbreak in Harare.  We are concerned that these outbreaks of diseases are coming about as a result of poor water system throughout Harare, in particular in high density suburbs of the… city,” he said at the launch of the report Tuesday in Harare.

The 60-page report said many Zimbabweans still have little access to potable water and sanitation services, and resort to drinking water from shallow, unprotected wells that are contaminated with sewage, and to defecating outdoors.

According to the United Nations, nearly 70 percent of rural households in Zimbabwe do not have modern sanitation facilities, and about 40 percent of them practice open defecation.

Simbarashe Moyo from the Combined Harare Residents Association attended the launch of the Human Rights Watch report.  He said the issue of archaic sanitation facilities was not only in rural areas.

“From the report we are witnessing ruralization of urban area[s].  When you have unprotected wells and each and every household in Harare, Epworth, Chitungwiza and so forth.  Surely that is an indication that we are now in rural areas, [and that] you are no longer in town,” said Moyo.

Moyo affirmed the finding of Human Rights Watch that contaminated water from sewage was, at times, flowing into wells Harare residents depended on for drinking.

Zimbabwean officials refused to comment on the Human Rights Watch report, saying they have yet to see it.  Human Rights Watch said it invited officials to Tuesday's news conference but was told the officials couldn't make it.

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