There are fears that water shortages facing Gwanda, Plumtree and Matobo district in Matabeleland South present a fertile breeding ground for a Coronavirus outbreak in the province.
Matabeleland South is seen as a COVID-19 hotspot owing to its proximity to neighbouring South Africa where over 1 300 cases have been recorded to date, the highest in the continent.
The province has not recorded any confirmed Coronavirus case, with the Provincial Medical Director Ruth Chikorodze telling this publication on Friday that the ministry has to date conducted only 4 tests of COVID-19.
However, rolling shortages of water in pockets of the region are seen as comprising a key preventive measure against the deadly COVID-19 which entails the constant washing of hands.
In Matobo and Plumtree, the water problems are blamed on the theft of copper cables affecting water pumping capacity. In Gwanda, failure to complete a water-piping project is blamed for the lack of the precious liquid in many suburbs.
“Without water, this lockdown in the district will be a futile exercise as it will be hard for families to observe lockdown guidelines. One will advise authorities to make sure water is available during this difficult period,” Norman Mpofu, a former legislator for Bulilima East said.
“Residents are resorting to a few boreholes when there is no water; there is always a scramble as demand will be high. Such a scenario will spell disaster for Plumtree. Social distancing and hygiene is impossible under the circumstances.”
Sichasisile Ndlovu, the coordinator of the Gwanda based civic Community Youth Development Trust (CYDT) added: “While provision of water for washing hands is critical, residents have no access to it; most rural clinics have no piped water hence those coming for their routine health check-up needs to bring a bottle of water, for example at Mzimuni Clinic in rural Gwanda.”
In Gwanda, the completion of a 5 megalitre water reservoir in the town in 2019 – which is seen as a long term solution to the water crisis in the Matabeleland South capital – has not brought any relief to residents of suburbs such as Spitzkop North Extension, Phakama, Senondo and Ultra.
The project was started in 2011 to deal with water challenges in the town. The only remaining work on the project involves the connection of pipes from the water reservoir to the houses but to date, there has been no movement in that regard.
“This is a potential breeding environment for the rapid spread of COVID-19. Residents have to turn to boreholes where you find hordes of women, men and children searching for the precious liquid,” Gwanda Residents Association (GRA) spokesperson Bekezela Maduma Fuzwayo said.
The country’s constitution, particularly sections 77 and 44 of the Constitution speaks to the need to guarantee the right to safe and clean water.
Zimbabwe has recorded 9 confirmed cases, and one casualty. Government has imposed several restrictions to fight the disease such as banning alcohol sale to a complete 21-day lockdown which kicked in on Monday.