Open defecation, climate vagaries expose rural communities to health risks

By Byron Mutingwende


With a significant number of people in rural areas still practising open defecation and the climate vagaries ravaging Zimbabwe, a health time bomb is imminent.


Statistics from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF to the effect that over 40 per cent of people in rural areas are still practising open defecation paint a gloomy picture as this exposes them to risks of contracting diarrheal diseases especially given the incessant rains that are leading to flooding across the country.


The floods, combined with open defecation, compromise the provision of equitable and sustainable access to clean water.


Roseline Dube (25), from Mberengwa – one of the districts worst affected by flooding, said the problem had brought about untold suffering to the villagers.


“The rains have brought about floods which have swept away our bridges and contaminated our wells with faecal matter as most of the people here practice open defecation,” Dube said.


To help alleviate the problem, the United Kingdom, through the Department of International Development (DFID) extended its support to the rural water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programme in Zimbabwe.


DFID Zimbabwe is working through UNICEF to provide equitable and sustainable access to clean water, improved sanitation and adoption of good hygiene practices among the poor and vulnerable rural population in 11 new districts of Zimbabwe.


It is envisaged that the programme extension to October 2018 will contribute to fewer cases of water-borne diseases and strengthen gender equality and more time spent in school – in particular for girls.


The Chairperson of the National Action Committee for Water Snitation and Hygiene, who is also the Permanent Secretary for Environment Water and Climate, Prince Mupazviriho said the DFID support would be used in the rehabilitation of non-functional boreholes and piped water schemes and the WASH sector governance.


“The intervention has greatly improved access to safe water to an estimated 3 million rural Zimbabweans. In addition, the project has improved access to safe sanitation and improved hygiene behaviours and practices to our rural communities,” Mupazviriho said.


Head of DFID in Zimbabwe, Annabel Gerry said, “This extension will provide improved access to water and sanitation to a further 1, 4 million people in 11 districts, improving the lives of some of the poorest people and mitigating the risk of catastrophic diseases.”


Improved access to safe water and sanitation and promoting good hygiene behaviour is critical to tackle the burden of diseases and reduce the vulnerability of the poor, especially girls and women. At least 32% of people in rural Zimbabwe do not have access to improved sources of drinking water while 52% do not have access to safe sanitation facilities.


Jane Muita, the UNICEF Deputy Representative to Zimbabwe said that access to access to safe water and adequate sanitation is critical to the realisation of fundamental human rights such as the right to life and dignity; the right to health and wellbeing; and the right to adequate food and shelter.


“While Sustainable Development Goal 6 speaks towards the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all, it is clear that the attainment of all the SDGs hinge on access to water. Water is the most essential resource for economic development. Poverty assessment research shows that improved access to water is the most important element to the creation of strategies that alleviate poverty,” Muita said.


She bemoaned a strong gender imbalance that exists in rural areas where women and girls do the great majority of manual and management work for water and sanitation services at the household level. They travel great distances to wells or boreholes, wait in long queues for their turn to collect water, and then lug heavy buckets long distances back to their villages.


Inadequate or lack of appropriate water and sanitation facilities in schools have a negative impact on the girl child’s ability to access education as many girls are forced to miss days at school every month due to lack of privacy and dignity.


It is reported that the girls’ village of Lundi Mission High School classrooms in Mwenezi were marooned by water due to flooding.


“At least 270 girls are sleeping in the church are sleeping in the church, five families (four teachers and one pastor) are still marooned and the Air Force of Zimbabwe Helicopter could not rescue them due to bad weather,” said a source who requested anonymity on Tuesday 28 February 2017.