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Zimbabwe: investing in Harare’s water supply

31-03-2009 Feature

Although cholera infection and mortality rates have declined recently, the epidemic has claimed nearly 4,000 lives and reportedly stricken over 90,000 people since last August. The ICRC is helping improve access to clean water and ultimately prevent disease.

  © REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo    
  A woman fetches water in the Budiriro suburb of Harare.    
    The quality and quantity of water supplied in Zimbabwe has declined in recent years owing to the difficult economic situation and other challenges faced by the country. Lack of essential spare parts, tools, equipment and technical expertise to carry out maintenance has left the water supply network in a state of disrepair. Lack of access to safe water is l argely responsible for the cholera epidemic and remains a crucial factor in controlling the spread of the disease.

It is against this backdrop that, in November 2007, the ICRC began collaborating with the Zimbabwe national water authority to rehabilitate Harare’s water-treatment plant. Until recently the authority was responsible for the Morton Jaffray water-treatment plant – Harare’s main water-pumping station located some 40 kilometres away – and the management of the nation's water and sewage systems. The Harare city council has now assumed responsibility for these tasks.

The focus of ICRC support is the Morton Jaffray plant, which supplies water to an estimated 2.5 million residents of Harare and its environs. Over the past year the organization has donated essential water pumps, testing equipment and tools. It offers technical assistance and expertise to the maintenance workshop serving the plant and the central water-distribution system.

  © REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo    
  Children collect water from a stream in the Budiriro neighbourhood of Harare.    
    The organization’s role is to support the rehabilitation with material and technical assistance. For the moment, the assistance is limited to the main point of water treatment. Ultimately the distribution network will require a complete overhaul to fully restore water supply, in terms of quality and quantity, to the residents of the city and the surrounding regions.

Paul-Henri Bourlon, an ICRC water engineer, says: " The initiative is a major boost to the authorities’ efforts to rehabilitate Harare’s central pumping station " . A government official concurs, " Cooperation with the ICRC has made it possible to keep the plant running and could make all the difference to hundreds of families in the future " .

The Zimbabwean authorities face a mammoth task in rehabilitating the Morton Jaffray plant. It will take some time before the impact of the ICRC’s contribution trickles down to households.

By supporting improvements in Zimbabwe’s water supply the ICRC is, among other things, helping curb the spread of cholera. The organization is also combating the disease directly. It is coordinating its activities with the Zimbabwe Red Cross, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and emergency response units of national Red Cross societies to support the health authorities assisting people affected in different parts of the country.
Support to the water-supply system
  Since 2007, the ICRC has delivered to the Zimbabwe national water authority six truckloads of supplies, containing:  
  • essential dosing and transfer pumps;  
  • laboratory equipment  
  • steel and plastic pipes  
  • T-pipes, valves and flanges  
  • spanners, nuts, bolts and fittings  
  • maintenance tools  
  • and 500 tonnes of filter sand.

      Since the beginning of 2009, the organization has distributed three tonnes of drugs and medical materials to eight polyclinics in congested suburbs of Harare and 13 health care facilities in remote rural areas of the country. This support for the health care system includes:  
  • a broad range of essential medicines  
  • injection, suture and dressing materials and gloves  
  • food packages for health care personnel (15 tonnes of maize, six tonnes of sugar and 3,000 litres of cooking oil)  
  • and transport allowances for health care staff in Harare.