Photo: J. Stavropoulou | MSF community teams inject the right amount of concentrated chlorine into water containers
“Why can’t you fix the whole urban water system,” asks a man as Dominique, MSF’s Water & Sanitation (watsan) expert and I stop at a busy market place in Dzivarasekwa; a Harare township. Our MSF mobile team of bucket chlorinators is here and Dominique wants to see how they are doing. The team goes around and injects disinfecting concentrated solution of chlorine into containers of water that people bring to make sure the water is safe to drink.
The market is busy. Small stands under umbrellas are selling anything you can imagine. From vegetables, especially mangoes and avocados, to shoes — but with only one of the pair displayed (to utilize better the space, to assure that they are not stolen?). I am standing next to a vegetable stand behind which is running a river of open sewage. The stench is so overwhelming that I am turned off from buying any fruit. I am talking to the lady who owns the vegetable stand. The man who had asked the question is standing idly nearby, like so many unemployed people in Zimbabwe.
The lady agrees. “Is it for life, is it forever this treatment you are doing?” she asks. I explain that no, that we are an emergency organization that is here to help with the cholera epidemic. She says she doesn’t want to chlorinate her water. I am a little stunned but try not to show my reaction because I want to understand. “But aren’t you afraid that you will get sick?”
“But then when you stop giving this we will be affected even more than before,” she explains. The man agrees, adding laughing, “We are resistant like wild dogs; we’ve been drinking unsafe water for a long time.”
Dominique overhears our conversation. He is passionate about clean water, about his job, about keeping people safe — he tirelessly and zealously checks water systems, problems areas, possible sources of infection, he never stops, never quits. I wonder if he will react impatiently because truth to tell I was feeling a little impatient myself with this attitude expressed by the people. But Dominique takes 20-minutes to reason with Jane. On and on he talks to her, about the importance of sanitation, about keeping her four kids safe, about clean water. I look on smiling — how long will she resist? She finally has to agree simply from the force of the argument. One more family saved?
Photo: Joanna Stavropoulou | Dzivaresekwa is a typical high-density township of Harare with open sewage running throughout its streets.
Dominique and I go off in the MSF minivan towards Dziva extension. The area is in its summer rainy season lush green has small shacks built along muddy roads and some half-built brick buildings. We stop at one of the shacks and this one, like all the others in the area has its own shallow well. Amai Trust seems to be the head of the household. Tall and proud she shows us her well. The compact dirt of her small compound is well swept, a line of clothes is hanging out to dry, a well tended vegetable garden by the side of the well. The children around are barefoot and with sparse clothing, but they are well-behaved.
Photo: Joanne Stavropoulou. | Most households in Dzivaresekwa Extension have their own wells. Because these are usually very shallow they run a high-risk of contamination.
Their well is no more than a meter or two deep, with a tire to make the opening and a make-shift tap to cover the opening. Dominique asks where the toilet is and everyone turns around to laugh between themselves; “they always laugh when I ask,” says Dominique smiling at me. The latrine is no more than ten meters away from the well. “It rains, the water flows from latrine to well, people walk around, or they leave the bucket on the ground then dip it into the well,” explains Dominique. I ask Amai Trust if she boils the water. She doesn’t understand but Revayi our driver helps to translate. “No,” he explains for her after conversing, “there is no electricity in this area and firewood is very expensive and precious. There is no way for her to boil water.”
A crowd has gathered around our MSF minivan and they are laughing. I ask Revayi why they are laughing. “They are afraid to touch our car,” he says smiling, “because they say if they do it will infect them with cholera.” I shake my head at the irony of this.