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Cholera Deaths Rising in Harare

In Zimbabwe's capital Harare, for the first time in most people's memory people are dying of cholera. There have been about 30 deaths from cholera this summer season, five of them in the last week.

If there was a competition for the worst sewage problem in Harare, a suburb called Dvaraskewa, about 12 kilometers west of the city, would be a contender.

Even after several days of hot sunshine and no rain there are sewage puddles all over the township. Storm drains are blocked and sewage is seeping into every road and path.

The smell in Dvaraskewa is unbearable in some parts. In others the smell is less pungent, but nowhere throughout the suburb of about 3,000 houses and a population of about 200,000 does the air smell clean, or even neutral.

The situation grew worse following the governments campaign of urban renewal that it called "Clean out the Trash," or Operation Murambatsvina in the majority Shona language. The United Nations said more than 700,000 urban residents were left homeless when bulldozers crushed small homes in May and June last year.

In Dvarasekwa, the remains of Operation Murambatsvina are everywhere. There are broken sewer pipes everywhere, along with piles of smashed bricks and broken pieces of concrete, the remains of tiny make shift shelters.

The overcrowding in existing semi detached dwellings is now more intense because people whose homes were torn down are now living with others, sharing everything, including the disintegrating sewage system.

Edmore Mutenje, is an activist for a local residents association who lives iin Dvaraskewa.

"The sewage is all over the area, everywhere we have got the sewage. Every road has got a sewer burst," he said.

He added that garbage had not been collected from the suburb for more than six months.

Precious Shumba, from the Combined Harare Residents Association blames the Harare local government. He says city officials who were elected on the opposition Movement for Democratic Change ticket in 2002 have all been sacked by the government and have been replaced with people loyal to the ruling Zanu PF. He said there is now an illegal administration running the city, which does not care about public health.

"These people were originally affected by Operation Murambatsvina," he noted. "After that operation sewer pipes also collapsed and as we speak right now, these people near the poly clinic are living facing flowing sewage in their homes, and two children are sick with cholera. The children are sick with cholera and they can't afford to take them to the clinic. The situation is desperate, and the City of Harare must act to ensure there is a clean environment for residents. The real situation is the City of Harare is arrogant and negligent."

At least two sick children in one home where sewage runs past the back door were unable to walk or talk Friday, lying in a clean but stinking home. Their mother said she did not have money to take them to the government clinic for treatment.

Health officials at the local government office in central Harare were not available for comment.

Private doctors say that previous cases of cholera in the city came from neighboring states, or from outlying rural areas. They say cholera in Harare is now homegrown.