Shortage of water may worsen COVID-19 situation in rural Zimbabwe

By Br. Alfonce Kugwa

The shortage of water in many rural areas may increase the spread of COVID-19 in Zimbabwe.

The fight against COVID-19 may prove to be very complex in rural Zimbabwe where people battle with different challenges characterised with hunger and starvation owing to drought, political and economic strife. While other regulations like wearing of masks and maintaining social distance are equally difficult for rural people, the washing of hands seems to be challenge due to the unavailability of water.

The scarcity of safe and clean water in many rural areas especially those that lie in regions four and five is a real time bomb in the face of corona virus. Because of poor rains realised in the 2019 season, people are seen scavenging for the precious liquid in most parts of Masvingo, Midlands and Matabeleland as most sources of water run dry. A survey conducted by Catholic Church News show that areas like Chirumanzu, Chivi, Gutu and Gokwe have run dry as the water table continues to flop. Boreholes, rivers and dams are rapidly drying up thereby exposing people to a high risk of contracting COVID-19 as water to maintain hygienic practices has become a nightmare.  This has also affected livelihoods for many rural people as they can do very little without water.

With the increasing number in cases of the pandemic in the country, government should prioritise provision of water by sinking more boreholes in rural areas to avoid untold disaster. An experience at a funeral in Chirumanzu revealed that if COVID -19 is to strike the drought stricken rural areas, more people will perish not because of lack of knowledge but because of lack of water. People had to travel about 10 or more kilometres to the remaining sources of water where they had to que for hours before they could get to the pump where desperate goats and cattle wait for drops to quench their thirst.

It is pathetic that mourners had to break the rule of washing hands under running water while others had to eat without washing hands at all. Some people were seen washing hands from the same dish as they argued that washing hands under running water wasted the scarce resource. This has serious implications to general health as more and more people can succumb to the virus transmitted through dirty hands and poor sanitary conditions. This can also lead to transmission of other communicable diseases such as cholera and typhoid.

“Washing hands under running water is a wastage of the precious liquid in this area. This is a dry region and the water table is very low because the rain season was very poor last year. Most of our water points including boreholes have dried up and we walk very long distances to get water. Such gatherings as funerals need enough water to keep proper health standards but unfortunately, there is no water here,” said one Mr. Chivangara of Gundura area.

He said while people are aware of the deadly pandemic’s effects, they were caught in between the need to maintain the health regulation of washing hands and the need to preserve the little water that they get from places far away.

The drought experienced in the above mentioned areas has seen many water points drying up thereby affecting many people’s livelihoods such as vegetable gardens and livestock rearing. This compounds  COVID-19 situation in rural Zimbabwe as hunger exposes people to the virus by weakening their immune system.

Masvingo Diocese Vicar General, Fr. Walter Nyatsanza testified that there was a great need for safe and clean water in Masvingo Province as most water points including boreholes have dried up. He said there was need for more boreholes so that people have enough water to wash hands and to keep up with health standards.

“Water is a big challenge these days as underground water table has gone lower due to poor rains received last year. People draw water from unsafe sources while in other areas people have to walk very long distances to get water. The Ministry of Health and Child Care should come on board to address the problem considering that COVID-19 and general health standards require washing of hands all the time. Without water, the washing of hands becomes a big challenge,” Fr. Nyatsanza said.

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