Paidamoyo Chipunza Senior Health Reporter
Harare City Council faces a possible class lawsuit by residents who fear their health has been compromised by being forced to consume visibly contaminated water supplied to their homes by the local authority.
The residents, through the Harare Residents Trust (HRT), a non-profit organisation, have called for the immediate resignation of city officials in charge of water and councillors who exercise oversight over the portfolio for failure to protect their interests.
In an interview with The Herald yesterday, HRT director Mr Precious Shumba said local authorities had a legislative and constitutional duty to provide potable water to residents. He said failure by councillors to ensure residents got adequate supplies of clean water was unpardonable, calling for their immediate resignation.
“Their failure to ensure that residents get sufficient potable water means that they have failed to deliver and hence must not entertain hopes of being retained in their positions. They do not deserve to represent the ratepayers, because they lack an appreciation of what really satisfies the electorate,” said Mr Shumba.
HRT, he said, had prepared submissions that it will take to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Local Government, Public Works and National Housing, including ministries responsible for public health, water and sanitation, to express ratepayers’ displeasure with council’s performance. Mr Shumba urged residents to collect samples of tap water for testing as part of evidence-gathering to be used to sue Harare City Council.
“We are urging residents to take samples of their municipal tap water for tests with the Standards Association of Zimbabwe (SAZ)so that there is evidence of the water status, which we shall be using to sue the City of Harare if it is established that their water has negative implications on people’s health,” said Mr Shumba.
It is however, believed that prosecuting HCC without amending the relevant law will be difficult. Community Working Group on Health (CWGH) executive director Mr Itai Rusike urged the Ministry of Health and Child Care to finalise revision of the Public Health Act, which he said had loopholes that make it difficult to prosecute local authorities for giving residents dirty water.
CWGH is a community-based organisation formed in early 1998 to lobby on health issues. Through the envisaged amended Act, the Ministry of Health and Child Care wants to make it an offence to fail to provide clean water and sanitation to the public.
“There are a number of problems in the environments of health in the capital city, Harare. Unreliable water supplies, prolonged water cuts, uncollected garbage — all lead to unsafe alternatives, which are detrimental to health,” said Mr Rusike.
He said increased cases of diarrhoeal diseases in the capital relative to other cities were clear evidence that the general uncleanliness of the water and the environment in Harare were taking a toll on residents’ health.
“Clean water supplies and environment conditions underlie many of the health problems in Harare and they should be dealt with with the seriousness they deserve.”
Recently, HCC Mayor Councillor Manyenyeni attributed the inadequate water supplies to a shortage of treatment chemicals such as aluminium sulphate, sulphuric acid, HTH Chlorine and activated carbon. He noted that foreign currency shortages are making it difficult to import the critical chemicals.
Statistics from the Ministry of Health and Child Care, Harare tops other cities and towns on diarrhoeal diseases in the country, and this is attributed to inadequate water supplies and poor sanitation facilities. Last year, the city struggled to contain a typhoid outbreak that emanated from Mbare and later spread to other high-density suburbs.