Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Zimbabwe: Aug ‘08

IWPR story chronicling fears of water-borne diseases in Bulawayo receives important accolade.
A story produced by IWPR’s Zimbabwe project on water sanitation and disease in the country’s second city, Bulawayo, was runner-up the in an international media competition.

The story, which was published on the September 19, 2007 and written under the pen name of Yamkani Mwando, won second prize in the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, WASH, media awards competition in Sweden.

The article chronicles growing fears over a potential outbreak of water-borne disease due to chronic water shortages and inadequate access to clean water in Bulawayo.

A council spokesman this week told a state-controlled daily newspaper that a number of people had now contracted cholera, the deadly water-borne disease that proliferates in areas with inadequate access to clean water.

This revelation, and reports that hundreds of people have been treated for diarrhoea, come as no surprise given the lack of mains water which has forced many in this city of more than two million to use untreated water.

Because of the persistent power cuts, people are unable to boil the potentially harmful water they collect from boreholes and other outside sources.

With some townships reporting water outages for seven days in a row, domestic lavatories have all but stopped functioning, and people are using areas where there are trees and bushes as open latrines, while health officials warn of the risks of disease.

“I wake up at about five in the morning when many people are still in bed and head for the bush,” said local resident Hilary Ndlovu, 27, explaining how he takes a hoe with him and digs a makeshift latrine.

Although the city authorities had appealed to the central government for assistance, an ongoing dispute over who should manage the city’s water resources had prevented a permanent solution from being found. Many of the city’s residents felt that the central government was punishing the city – which has long been an opposition stronghold – and its residents.

Television documentary maker Robert Lamb of OnePlanet Pictures, a member of the award jury, said, “ Public awareness built through the media paves the way for the global community to care and encourages decision-makers at al levels to act.”

Mwando, who is from Bulawayo, has written many articles on how the city of more than one million people has perennial water problems, which are still far from being resolved.

The central government, 500 kilometres away in Harare, has promised to build a 450 kilometre water pipeline from the Zambezi River into the province, but for decades has cited lack of money as the reason for not even embarking on it.

Most locals do not believe this, and say that President Robert Mugabe is punishing them for voting against him since independence in 1980.

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