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Cholera: Harare City Council caught sleeping on the job

18 Sep 2018 at 13:28hrs | Views
The ongoing cholera outbreak started on 1 September in Glen View 3, Harare and has since spread, killing 30 people with 5 463 cases having been reported to date.  As usual opposition elements have been blaming Government for not doing enough yet the capital city falls under the jurisdiction of the MDC-dominated Harare City Council (HCC), a local authority which runs on an annual budget of US$345 million (2017).

Owing to a growing population which is exerting pressure on the already aging sewer infrastructure, the HCC has been taking long to respond to reports of burst sewer pipes. Unattended burst sewer pipes resulted in raw sewerage openly flowing and contaminating boreholes where most residents get their water for domestic use. If council attended to the burst sewer pipes in a timely manner chances are high that the boreholes would not have been contaminated.

Unattended leaking water pipes have become the order of the day in Harare yet other areas of the city which are located on higher ground are not even receiving running water. Prior to the cholera outbreak, the standard of cleanness and hygiene in the city especially in the high density suburbs was dropping each passing day as residents were having less access to clean water, thereby compromising on health standards.  Despite receiving a US$144million loan from China, the HCC has dismally failed to upgrade and increase its water pumping capacity. Instead, the city management chose to purchase luxury vehicles for themselves at the expense of the residents' health. As it stands, the HCC is far from ensuring that everyone has access to clean drinking water.

The City Health Department has been a huge disappointment as its Environmental Health Technicians (EHTs) have not been on the ground to signpost any health anomalies for management's attention. They could have easily picked out that a health time bomb was ticking in the Glen View and Budiriro high density suburbs and corrective measures could have been taken to avert the disaster.

Cooked food vending sites have been mushrooming everyday in the city and the city fathers have not raised an eyebrow on such developments. A snap survey before the cholera outbreak showed that cooked food vendors were selling food from every open space available both in the city centre and high density suburban shopping centres where there are no ablution facilities.

Vendors operating from undesignated premises have been fuelling the situation as they chose to trade their wares on open spaces blocking both human and vehicular traffic.  The vendors had also become notorious for throwing refuse everywhere even where there are refuse bins. The relocation exercise that came into effect from 16 September is set to see vendors plying their trade from Seke and Coventry roads, among others. This enforcement should not be taken as a once off event as in the past the vendors took the city fathers' laxity to slowly trickle back in.

Uncollected refuse has become the order of the day as council does not stick to its refuse collection schedules citing lack of fuel or broken down refuse trucks. At one time only 22 out of the city's 47 trucks were operational. It is this uncollected garbage and unattended burst sewer pipes which provide conducive breeding ground for the cholera bacteria.

Lack of supervision is the major undoing of the HCC as workers carry out tasks at their own pace. Major sewer and water reticulation works take long to be completed no matter how pivotal they are to service provision and safeguarding the health of people. Municipal workers are holding the city at ransom as they do as they please disregarding the fact that they are at the centre of service delivery.

The HCC has a lot of misplaced priorities. For example, the city authorities sponsor a football team, Harare City Football Club, to the tune of US$2 million. Former MDC-T Mayor of Harare, Bernard Manyenyeni, once lambasted the sponsoring of the football team, which he said was a luxury which the council could not afford. Relatedly, former MDC-T Councillor for Ward 18, Allan Markham in 2014 resigned as the city finance chairperson after realising that the city fathers were good at spending money unnecessarily through expenses such as sponsoring a football team. In his words he described this financial anomaly as "an amazing folly".

As if that was not enough, following the cholera outbreak, some well wishers such as Econet Wireless and Schweppes Zimbabwe donated cash and materials to assist in curbing the scourge, some HCC officials attempted to inflate the prices of some of the materials that are required for this cause. It had to take a threat from Econet Wireless founder, Strive Masiyiwa, declaring that he would name and shame the city officials involved in the shameless attempt once the disease has been contained, for the city management to take action against the perpetrators.

The assistance rendered to the City of Harare so far would count for nothing if the councillors and municipal managers do not change their attitude towards their work. It will require a mindset shift and a change in corporate culture in the city administrative corridors to prevent the ongoing cholera challenge.  If a city official can brazenly plot to defraud the municipality of donated resources for such a serious cause, one wonders what else has been going unreported at Town House.

Source - Elijah Chihota
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