Zimbabwe once had an effective water system. However, a lack of proper infrastructure and government action means a lack of safe water. Water and waste disposal systems suffer ineffective planning, especially in Zimbabwe’s capital Harare. Further, COVID-19 affects Zimbabwe broadly as well as having an impact on its already fragile water supply.
The Issues in Harare
To survive, residents in Harare must dig wells to create a water source. However, the well water is not safe to drink. The sewage system in Harare is another health issue for residents. Young children play in sewage and often fall ill from the lack of sanitation.
Additionally, further issues plague Harare. The Human Rights Watch interviewed a Harare resident named Bonnie who explained that she does not have water to bathe and clean her three children, including one in diapers. The video also featured an interview with a woman called Abigail. She mentioned that the water smells, and she must use a purification tablet before bathing or drinking. Abigail says the government’s negligence has caused these issues within the community.
More than half of Harare’s 4.5 million population could only access running water once a week. This was according to the city’s mayor, Herbert Gomba, back in 2019. Thus, residents must turn to other solutions, such as waiting in long lines at communal wells, streams or boreholes. The water received from these places may not even be safe to drink.
Drought is the cause of the shortage of water in Zimbabwe. In Harare, one-half of the population’s reservoirs are empty because there is no rain. The remaining water, 45% to 60%, is often lost and inaccessible to the population due to leakage or theft.
As the novel coronavirus plagues the globe, the disease is contributing great distress to Zimbabwe. COVID-19 affects Zimbabwe mainly through its water supply, which hurts the citizens of Harare and the surrounding population.
In Harare, citizens go without water for days. They must wait until water trucks arrive in the city. Once the water is finally available, COVID-19 changes how citizens can access it. Citizens gather in large numbers to wait in line, which makes the concept of social distancing nearly impossible. Then, they push and shove to receive water. Additionally, COVID-19 affects Zimbabwe because many individuals do not wear or cannot access masks.
Organizations like Doctors Without Borders encourage social distancing. Yet, it is not a long-term or time-friendly solution, as they are not sure that it will keep people safe. Furthermore, the people in Harare are desperate for food and water. They may sacrifice their health to be first in line to receive water for themselves and their families.
Dewa Mavhinga, the South Africa director at Human Rights Watch, explains that COVID-19 affects Zimbabwe differently because of their pre-existing lack of water. It takes a toll on the spread of the virus and other infectious diseases, such as typhoid and cholera. Water is necessary for handwashing and hygiene, which can combat the spread of coronavirus. Without an uninterrupted supply of water, residents will struggle to stay safe and healthy.
Supporters abroad can help aid the people of Zimbabwe by urging U.S. congressional leaders to make the COVID-19 crisis in Zimbabwe a current political and human rights focus. With U.S. backing, the Zimbabwean government can ensure there are water points throughout the country. This will prevent overcrowding and the spread of COVID-19.
Another way to aid Zimbabwe’s public health system is to show support to organizations, such as Doctors Without Borders and Save the Children. These organizations are providing emergency relief and recovery programs for people in Zimbabwe. They are doing everything they can to combat how COVID-19 affects Zimbabwe by implementing humanitarian relief efforts.
– Caitlin Calfo