Since May this year, Bulawayo has reported almost 3000 diarrhoea cases in three major surburbs namely Luveve, Magwegwe and Mzilikazi with five more suburbs having been added to the list this last month. The attaining situation has become a major public health concern especially in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic.
Recently in an interview with the Divisional Environmental Health Officer for Bulawayo City and Vice Chairperson for Emergency Preparedness and Response for Bulawayo Metropolitan province, Patrick Ncube, alluded the prevailing situation in the City owing to the state of water and sanitation. Residents have for the past months been subjected to acute water shortages which has seen the Bulawayo City Council managing to provide water to only a few suburbs per day.
“The city has always experienced water shortage and in the past 4 years we have not received adequate rains. Currently, all our 6 dams are sitting at 21 percent capacity with 3 of them having been decommissioned. Diarrheal cases have been going down, but the problem remains until we receive rains.
“It is this situation that has necessitated water shedding in the city. We are currently having 144 water shedding regiments once in 7 days, with each household receiving water 1 day per week. More so, some household do not even receive water at all because of high gravitation.”
However, Ncube reassured that the city was religiously treating its water and it is safe for drinking. He added that problems arise when residents store water for longer periods and in so doing compromising its quality.
“As per WHO standards on quality control water samples are sent quarterly for examination hence the water that we are currently distributing is certified. It is in the process of storage and use that water is then contaminated. Even worse with the shortages, personal hygiene is relegated to the peripheries with hand washing taking the backstage.”
In addition, Ncube highlighted that erratic water supply has forced residents to look for alternative sources such as shallow wells.
“If water is not restored people will start to look for alternative sources of the precious resource. We gathered from our investigations in June after a diarrhoea outbreak which claimed 13 lives in Luveve suburb that there had been shallow wells dug along a stream contaminated with wastewater,” he said.
In mitigating the situation in the city, it was gathered that the management had put in place measures to alleviate the existing challenges.
“If anyone presents with diarrhoeal illness, they are treated for free at all the city health facilities. What we noted was some resident dehydrated at home without seeking medical attention because of user fees. Our health promotion teams have been cascading the information of fees waiver to our communities to encourage them to seek medical attention.
“Our boreholes have been refurbished however, I should be quick to specify that the water is only ideal for household use and not consumption. We are also trucking water to areas with high ground apart from having introduced water kiosks using Jojo tanks in various locations. This is where community members give each other turns to fetch water so as not to over crowd the kiosk points.” said Ncube.
Ncube implored upon the city residents to rigorously observe hygiene and infection preventive measures to keep diarrhoeal cases going down.
“As we store our water lets make sure the bucket is clean and has a lid on. In instances where we collect water in plastic drums let’s use water guard/aqua tabs or better still let’s just boil all water we intend to drink. Most of all let’s use the water sparingly as we wait for the rains to come.”