By Jill Mangachena.
The town of CHITUNGWIZA has now become synonymous with unsanitary conditions!
From water shortages, uncollected garbage, burst sewers and grievously potholed roads, Chitungwiza has seen it all! A new health hazard is emerging due to lack of public toilets as residents resort to open defecation.
Open defecation, alternatively known as the bush system, is becoming increasingly prevalent in the town with residents relieving themselves in maize fields and open areas at night. Shortages of water to flush toilets have often been increasingly cited as the main reason behind this phenomenon.
Although many houses in Chitungwiza have infrastructure for piped water, water flows into most homes is inconsistent. In most places such as St Mary’s and Zengeza residents receive taped water for only two days a week while in some suburbs of Seke tape water ceased to run some four or five years ago, a situation resulting from old town planning which did not provide provisions for the higher population of today.
Most of the town’s residents rely on water from boreholes. Women and children are the ones mostly left with the responsibility of going to the borehole and often have to wait up for hours on long queues to collect water. Some residents often have to collect water from shallow, unprotected wells they dig themselves and these wells are susceptible to sewage and other ground water contamination.
The denial to the right to water and sanitation has a significant impact on the realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Water and sanitation access is closely tied to the right to life as well as the right to health.
Lack of water and sanitation may prevent citizens from realizing their rights to civic participation and information particularly for women, children and vulnerable groups in society. The rights to civic participation in decision making processes and to information are relative to ensuring equitable access to water and are often violated by governments and policy makers. Upholding the rights to water and sanitation is necessary for demonstrating respect for human rights.
Open defecation jeopardizes people’s health, dignity and safety. It provides a breeding ground for pathogens that cause diseases like cholera, typhoid and diarrhea that results in loss of lives and income as citizen pay for health care and take days off from their normal daily economic activities that provide bread and butter issues to their families.
Children are particularly vulnerable to water borne diseases. In Zimbabwe diarrhea is responsible for 10 percent of deaths of children under five years. Access of clean drinking water and appropriate sanitation can prevent waterborne diseases including cholera and diarrhea.
Open defecation also has impact on personal dignity and safety mostly for women and girls as they move further away from crowded areas in order to have privacy, they are more at risk of physical attacks and sexual violence.
It is, however, not only open defecation which may lead to the spread of such diseases. Open sewers and overflowing sewage has become a common sight in Chitungwiza, posing significant health risks, apart from contaminating nearby water sources such as wells. The concentration of human waste attracts flies and other disease vectors. Flies thrive in areas with poor sanitation contributing to the spread of a number of diseases that include cholera, typhoid and dysentery.
Contributing to a poor sanitation environment is an inadequate system for refuse disposal. Refuse piled in the street corners, shopping centres and open spaces especially which contains human waste such as diapers also acts as breeding ground for various types of diseases.
Residents pay monthly bills to the council which includes money to maintain infrastructure, they are not given an account of how the money they contribute is being spent. The money is not ploughed back into the system for service upgrades and infrastructure projects.
Rather much of that money is being diverted into the pockets of top management. The money is poorly accounted for and may be unlawfully allocated towards the benefits of the city council members.
Unless Chitungwiza residents start being active citizens and actively participate in decision making processes it is impossible to create a transparent, responsible and responsive system in order to solve the problems of corruption and make their environment move towards sanity.