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 Wednesday 03 October 2007
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ZIMBABWE: Bulawayo's water crisis cripples AIDS efforts

Photo: Manoocher Deghati/IRIN
The dams that supply Bulawayo are drying up and some parts of the city are going without tap water.
BULAWAYO, 1 October 2007 (PlusNews) - Zimbabwe's economic woes have taken their toll on Thembelihle House, (meaning 'Good Hope' in Ndebele) an HIV and AIDS nursing home in Mpopoma, a high-density suburb in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second largest city, but the severe water shortage has been even more crippling.

"This is the ninth straight day that we have gone without [running] water," Priscilla MacIsaac, Thembelihle's sister-in-charge, told IRIN/PlusNews. "It makes us feel so helpless."

The region's consistently low rainfall in the last few years has led to dwindling water levels in the city's dams. Three of the five main dams have had to be decommissioned, while another, Inyankuni, may suffer the same fate in the next month, leaving only one dam, Insiza, to provide most of Bulawayo's 700,000 people with water.

Under normal circumstances, the city consumes 150,000 cubic metres of water daily, but has been receiving just under 70,000 cubic metres since water-shedding - controlled water cuts - was introduced a few months ago. If Inyankuni were to be decommissioned, the city would be running on about 45,000 cubic metres, less than a third of its average requirement. Some areas, such as Old Lobengula, have gone without tap water for months at a time.

According to water-shedding regulations, all residential suburbs should receive tap water on at least two days a week. "The only problem is that when we reconnect water supplies to certain areas, particularly those on higher ground, the water reservoirs will not have sufficient pressure to push water up to them," said Pathisa Nyathi, public relations officer for Bulawayo City Council.

Nurses at Thembelihle have resorted to pumping water from a borehole at a neighbouring school and carrying it to the home in 20-litre plastic containers to wash the patients and do laundry.

Although the home has a borehole, sunk with donor assistance in 2006, the pump stopped working as a result of the city's erratic power supply. "Our water problems were not so bad until our pump packed up," said the home's manager, Almah Mangena.

The home's garden, which once flourished with crops of cabbage, spinach, tomatoes, lettuce, peas, sweet potatoes, butternuts and various medicinal herbs, used to provide affordable and balanced meals for patients. Now, with only a few stalks of wilting leaf vegetables surviving in the parched soil, vegetables have to be sourced from elsewhere, another challenge for staff.

"The idea behind Thembelihle is to be a nursing home, whereby patients with HIV and AIDS are discharged from hospitals and admitted here, in transit to home-based care," said Mangena.

Thembelihle opened in July 2003 and since then has taken referrals from hospitals, surgeries, home-based care programmes and other AIDS service organisations. It has received funding from World Vision and Action Aid, both international donor agencies, as well as the Bulawayo South Rotary Club, the National AIDS Council and various private-sector organisations and individuals.

But a five-year grant from a United Kingdom-based trust recently expired, and an organisation that used to supply money to buy food has also stopped doing so. "Ever since supplies of basic commodities began to dwindle, we have not received money from them," said Mangena. Thembelihle opened a children's ward in 2005, but had to close it just three months later because it lacked the funding to recruit sufficient staff.

The home cares for up to 24 in-patients at a time. Although it does not provide antiretroviral treatment (ART), its nurses help administer the medication to patients already on the drugs.

Donations from the local community pay for pain medication and antibiotics for treating opportunistic infections. "This place was not really meant for bed-ridden patients, but rather for patients whom we would treat and release back to their homes," said Mangena. "But it's never like that." Most people who were currently being referred to the home were gravely ill and often near death, she said.

The City Council has been delivering water to strategic points in different suburbs and Thembelihle's staff store the precious liquid in pots, bottles and containers. "This might last us two days," estimated sister-in-charge MacIsaac nervously. The Council's deliveries are erratic and the home may soon run dry again.

So far, there have been no outbreaks of waterborne diseases, such as cholera, at the home, but the City Council's Nyathi has noted the public health threat posed by water scarcity.

Cases of dysentery are on the increase because some people have resorted to digging their own wells to reach water, which is sometimes contaminated with harmful germs and bacteria from seeping sewage. Others with their own boreholes or access to water have been taking advantage of the water shortage by selling water for up to Z$50,000 (US$1.50) for a 20-litre bucket.

A steady drizzle begins to pelt the Thembelihle office's asbestos roof, and heavy grey rain clouds seem to confirm national meteorological predictions that Zimbabwe will experience normal to above-normal rainfall this year. "God has provided a drizzle," said Mangena wistfully. "Let's hope we can get even more."


Theme(s): (IRIN) Care/Treatment - PlusNews, (IRIN) HIV/AIDS (PlusNews), (IRIN) PWAs/ASOs - PlusNews


[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
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