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Water woes compound Covid-19 risk



TAFADZWA Nyandoro (26) pushes a cart load of water containers as he trudges along a dusty path from a borehole in Chitungwiza, 15 kilometres south of Harare.


Nyandoro’s day starts at 3am and he is always the first in the queue. By the time other residents queue for water, he would have filled his buckets and ready to begin delivering water to his regular customers.

His water-fetching exploits and an enterprising mind have thrown Nyandoro a lifeline during the Covid-19 pandemic when many young men of his age are redundant.

He has taken advantage of perennial water shortages in Chitungwiza to provide for his family. On a good day he makes US$7.

‘‘I  sell water to people who are not able to wait in queue, earn about US$7 per day and I depend on this business for survival. Water has become one of most priced commodities in Chitungwiza. It is a very hard task, especially during winter. I wake up early to secure my place in the queue,’’ Nyandoro said.

The acute shortage of the precious liquid has brought untold suffering to women and children who are usually the ones tasked with fetching water for household use.

With the Covid-19 pandemic raging in Zimbabwe and the third wave threatening to spiral out of control, handwashing and sanitising have become critical.

Hand washing with running water using soap has been recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as one of the most effective ways of reducing the spread of Covid-19.

But with constant water cuts and dry taps, this routine has been tough for Zimbabweans living in urban areas like Chitungwiza.

Mary Chabaiwa of Unit K in Seke, Chitungwiza, recounts her daily struggles with water shortages.

“Life is very difficult here in Chitungwiza due to water shortages. Ee can’t do anything without water, water is life. Every morning, groups of women, some with young children strapped on their backs, go to the borehole to fetch water. It has become very difficult for most women to balance the time for work, household chores and searching for water,’’ Chabaiwa told The NewsHawks.

It has been three weeks since taps ran dry in Chitungwiza’s Unit K area, while broken water pipes owing to dilapidated municipal infrastructure have prevented thousands from getting water.

Residents use water sparingly when bathing, Patricia Maibva of Unit L in Seke, said.

“I don’t even remember taking a shower. Bathing out of a bucket has become a way of life not just for me but most of Chitungwiza residents. It is possible to use only five litres of water to bath, depending on how much you can limit yourself to save water. Most of the time we get tap water at midnight and it lasts four hours whilst people are sleeping so we end up relying on borehole water,’’ Maibva said.

Despite the acute water shortages, another resident, Tamary Chiweshe, has vowed not to buy water.

“I can’t afford to buy drinking water. Sometimes we go for days without clean water to drink. Due to the lockdown, l have no means of getting money to buy drinking water,’’ Chiweshe said.

Long queues at community boreholes have become a common feature in Chitungwiza. Brawls often erupt when unscrupulous elements try to jump queues, infuriating restless residents, who would have spent hours awaiting their turn to fetch water.

Social distancing is impossible in these queues, heightening the risks of contracting Covid-19.

‘‘Most of the days l come here around 4am and l leave around 6am, but it depends on the day because on some days l spend up to four hours for my turn. People ended up fighting because of the long hours which they spend at boreholes, especially when someone tries to jump the queue,’’ Sharon Murema said.

“There is no social distancing at the boreholes.”

Some desperate residents walk long distances to fetch the precious liquid.

‘‘We are wasting a lot of time fetching water from long distances instead of doing other productive work. Fetching water has become our main activity. There is no development, I’m just surviving from hand to mouth,’’ Tapiwa Tangwirei said.

Chitungiwa ward 17 councillor Mary Pangiti said Unit K receives piped water only once a month. She said the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (Zinwa) should invest in water infrastructure and replace aging pipes.

‘‘Zinwa is failing to get adequate foreign currency needed to import water treatment chemicals. Another problem is that most of the pipes were laid way back and have outlived their lifespan. Leakages on the pipelines have also resulted in major water shortages, resulting in residents resorting to boreholes for potable water. Water shortages mean that Covid-19 prevention methods such as social distancing, sanitising and washing hands under running water are impossible to implement,’’ Pangiti said.

To avert the desperate water situation, some residents have been forced to dig shallow wells and boreholes, exposing their families to water borne diseases like cholera and typhoid.

But for Nyandoro, the desperate water situation in Chitungwiza is a blessing in disguise.

“Fetching water for those who can’t afford to spend hours in queues is now my source of livelihood,” he says.

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