The Zimbabwe government cut the supply of water to the capital city Harare in December because it could no longer afford the chemicals to purify it. The loss sanitation coupled with a failing heath care system has led to a cholera outbreak. At the time, Health Minister David Parirenyatwa’s advice to Zimbabweans during this crisis was to stop shaking hands. “I want to stress the issue of shaking hands. Although it’s part of our tradition to shake hands, it’s high time people stopped shaking hands.”
In the surrounding townships, many of which have been without municipal water for over two years, locals have been digging their own wells and selling the water for profit. Parirenyatwa pins blame on this practice for fueling the epidemic, saying “What I am afraid of is now that the rainy season has come, the faeces lying in the bushes will be washed into shallow wells and contaminate the water.” The multiple crises faced by Zimbabwe has resulted in rioting by both the civilian population and the military.
Currently, at Bulawayo’s National University of Science and Technology, scientists are researching low cost purification methods. The drought resistant Moringa tree, widely found in Zimbabwe, could provide rural areas with safe drinking water. ”So far, the treatment of water with Moringa seed powder has proven to be an effective method of reducing water-borne diseases and correct pH, said Ellen Mangore, a civil engineer at the university. Research will continue with the powder, as well as household chemicals such as bleach.
Fortunately, heavy rains have slowed the cholera situation somewhat. Locals have been collecting the rainwater to drink, and “sustained heavy rains this late in the rainy season have also washed away disease-carrying contaminants that the initial rains carried into water sources.” An announcement of $10 million in spending from the Finance Ministry to tackle the Harare water situation “should help reduce the incidence of cholera in the capital and in the high-density suburbs or townships that have been hit hard by the epidemic” and provide “incremental improvements in public water supplies” according to Deputy Mayor Emmanuel Chiroto.