December 2 2008
Water supplies to residents in Harare were cut by the authorities yesterday as Zimbabwe’s cholera epidemic tightened its grip and the city witnessed its worst unrest for a decade.
The Zimbabwe National Water Authority turned off the pumps in the capital after it ran out of purifying chemicals. With cholera cases soaring above 11,000 across the country, and an anthrax outbreak ravaging the the countryside, David Parirenyatwa, the Health Minister, urged Zimbabweans to stop shaking hands to avoid spreading disease.
Companies and government offices, especially those in high-rise buildings, were sending workers home by midday as lavatories became blocked. “My office stinks and the toilet is a disgusting site,” said Mary Sakupwene, a secretary. “I won’t go back until the water’s on again.”
The four-star Jameson Hotel stopped taking guests and other less exclusive ones closed. Restaurants provided buckets of water for hand-washing and flushing. There was a sharp increase in people turning up at the Harare Sports Club – served by boreholes – for their ablutions after their home taps ran dry. It notified members that from today they would be charged $US2 (£1.34) for a shower.
In Harare’s townships, some of which have been without water for two years, 20 litres of water from one of the thousands of backyard hand-dug wells can cost $1. All wells hold the danger of cholera. “What I am afraid of is now that the rainy season has come, the faeces lying in the bushes will be washed into shallow wells and contaminate the water,” said Mr Parirenyatwa.
The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) urged President Mugabe to accept international humanitarian help. “The country is reaching a catastrophic level, in terms of food, health delivery, education,” said Morgan Tsvangirai, the MDC leader. “Everything seems to be collapsing around us.”
The seething anger felt by ordinary Zimbabweans exploded yesterday as hundreds of off-duty soldiers went on the rampage in the centre of Harare. Witnesses said that the violence erupted at a bus depot on the edge of the city centre where soldiers, frustrated at not being able to draw cash from banks, confronted illegal moneychangers. The dealers scattered and the soldiers turned on the city, followed by civilians spurring them on.
The mobs stoned cars and looted shops. In the panic, home-bound workers fled and traffic jammed as motorists tried to turn back from the scene.
It was the first serious public unrest since the riots over food price increases ten years ago. The disturbance brought a swift and brutal response from the authorities who swamped the area with heavily armed para-military police and troops. At least one man was shot.
November 27 2008
A 28-year-old Zimbabwean medical student speaks to the BBC about the cholera outbreak that has killed more than 360 people in the country since August
He describes his visit to two areas in and around the capital, Harare, that have been worst affected by the crisis.
“I just came back from Budiriro suburb and the city of Chitungwiza near Harare, and the situation there is really desperate and critical.
At a clinic in Budiriro they were trying to treat hundreds of people.
There were so many that they had to lie them down outside.
While I was there perhaps 150 more people arrived looking for treatment.
The people arriving look extremely weak and dehydrated.
They could barely stand, and many came being wheeled in wheelbarrows.
They had to string up washing lines outside the clinic to hang the packets of intravenous fluid.
They lay on the floor while the tubes were inserted into their arms.
But these people were lucky.
Health workers at the clinic told me that until the day before they had no intravenous fluid.
The clinic had a delivery from an aid agency that day.
I don’t know how long their supplies will last.
‘Held to ransom’
In Chitungwiza we saw that sewer pipes had burst, releasing sewage into the street.
Sanitation systems have broken down, so wells are being dug to find water
It was like a river flowing through the town, it just went on and on.
The stink was like a disgusting toilet.
I worry especially for the children, they’re most at risk because they play in the street with all the sewage, and don’t know how bad it is for them.
The cause of these bursting pipes is the lack of maintenance and repairs.
As time has gone on the people who were meant to be doing this have not been paid, or have deserted their jobs to do other work that can get them foreign currency.
And so the sanitation system has broken down.
In Harare itself people have avoided the disease, so far.
In other part of Harare the sanitation systems are still working, for the time being, but it’s a very communicable disease and it is spreading quickly.
Doctors and nurses I speak to say they feel like they are being held to ransom by the government.
They’re not being paid, they must work voluntarily to deal with this disease.
They are really very disgruntled.
They say they are just a few people holding back a tide of disease.
If we don’t get some help soon it’s going to be very tough.”
The Anthrax needs to be addressed quickly. They need a great deal of help.
The Sanctions need to lifted as well.
Are there helping. Donations would be gladly accepted.