Zimbabwe says cholera outbreak risks overstated

Source:Xinhua Published: 2013-11-21 9:19:35

The Zimbabwean authorities on Wednesday accused an international group of overstating the risks of a cholera outbreak in the sprawling capital city of Harare, ensuring the public that the cholera epidemic that killed 4,000 people in 2008 won't repeat again.

Director of health services Stanley Mongofa told Xinhua that most places in the city were receiving potable water, including an area that was the epicenter of the deadly cholera outbreak five years ago.

Mongofa responded to a 160-paged Human Rights Watch report titled "Troubled Water: Burst Pipes, Contaminated Wells, and Open Defecation in Zimbabwe's Capital". It said Harare residents had little access to potable water and sanitation services and often resort to drinking water from sewer-contaminated wells and defecating in bushes.

"If they say the conditions that prevailed during the 2008 cholera outbreak are still persisting, I will ask, why have we not had a cholera outbreak in the past five years?" said an incensed Mungofa who was very reluctant to comment on the report.

Human Rights Watch said it produced the report from a research it carried out in 2012 and 2013 in Harare, including 80 interviews with residents in high-density suburbs.

The organization's Southern Africa director Tiseke Kasambala said the conditions that allowed cholera to flourish in 2008 were still persisting in Harare thus placing the lives of many at risk of water-borne diseases. It quoted some residents describing raw sewage flowing into their homes and streets from burst pipes.

Cholera is an infectious disease caused by bacteria that affects human's intestine. The severity of the diarrhea and vomiting can lead to rapid dehydration and electrolyte imbalance, causing death in some cases. Transmission occurs primarily by drinking water or eating food that has been contaminated by the feces of an infected person.

Mungofa acknowledged that the 2008 cholera outbreak was severe because of the economic meltdown in the country. But since 2009, the macro-economic environment had vastly improved and so were water supplies in Harare.

"I am not aware of Budiriro high density suburb (the epicenter of the 2008 cholera outbreak) not receiving water. So what these people are saying smacks of ulterior motives," he said.

The report comes at a time when the Harare City Council has signed a 144 million US dollars deal with a Chinese company to upgrade its aged water treatment infrastructure. China's Import and Export Bank is expected to provide the loan.

Upgrading work has already started at the city's major water works. But the whole project, undertaken by China Machinery Engineering Corporation, will take seven years.

Currently, Harare produces around 600 mega liters of water per day against a requirement of

1,200 mega liters for its 2.5 million residents and another 2 million consumers from four satellite towns.

The city has resorted to rotational water rationing to mitigate the water shortages.

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