Zimbabwe's Health System Lacks Water

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Corruption, Mismanagement, and Neglect Conspire: The Capital’s Main Hospitals Don’t Have Clean Water

Water crisis has reached two of the largest hospitals in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, where many key medical facilities have been operating largely without running water for most of the year. Harare Central Hospital, which receives referrals from across the country, remains open despite the water shortage, in violation of several international public health standards, according to press reports from Harare and neighboring South Africa.

Zimbabwe health officials are concerned that infections will spread through overcrowded hospitals. In some cases beds have been placed only inches apart, doctors are unable to provide basic hygiene, and toilets do not function. Earlier this month, Harare’s Financial Gazette quoted an unidentified nurse at Harare Hospital stating that patients’ relatives have had to resort to bringing water to family members admitted there. Hospital officials were not available for comment when reached repeatedly by phone.

Zimbabwe’s health minister, David Parirenyatwa, recently asked hospital administrators to dig additional wells at the hospital.

The crisis appears to be the result of government neglect of the city’s water system rather than drought. Harare’s water infrastructure predates Zimbabwe’s 1980 independence, when the city had 600,000 residents; it now has in excess of 1.6 million. Though the city has “a really sophisticated water system,” according to Human Rights Watch’s Jane Cohen, “it just hasn’t been maintained.”

Cohen wrote an HRW report on Zimbabwe’s water system that was released in November. She said water officials have been carrying out unofficial rationing since last year, sending water to different neighborhoods as supplies allow. But they lack the means to communicate to the public which pipes will be opened and when. “The engineers at Harare Water know when there are going to be water shortages, but that information is not shared with the public,” Cohen said.

A cabinet minister estimated it would cost U.S. $1 billion to upgrade the system—a cost that would largely be passed on to users.

A shortage of chemicals used in water treatment has also become a political issue in the country, with officials from Zimbabwe’s two major parties accusing one another of pocketing money earmarked for purchasing supplies and for updating the crumbling water system.

Accusations of corruption among managers of the water system are rampant. In April, a World Bank–appointed auditor found a bid for water system upgrades by a Chinese firm had been “inflated.” 

Source: Take Part

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