- The economic collapse in Zimbabwe had caused cash problems at the Harare water utility, meaning that water purification chemicals were no longer available. Only an effort by foreign aid agencies managed to avoid a break in the supply of pure water in the Zimbabwean metropolis and the typical epidemics associated to dirty water.
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), "Zimbabwe's economic crisis had made it impossible to purchase adequate water purification chemicals and as a result, the city could not provide a regular supply of clean water." There was danger of a cholera epidemic, which is a common consequence of lack of clean water supply.
The spread of water-borne diseases was avoided by a joint effort of the UN development agency UNDP and USAID, the aid agency of the United States. The US in general has stopped its aid to Zimbabwe due to the Mugabe regime's human rights violations, but still provides emergency aid.
According to the UN, the joint UN-US effort was crucial "to prevent water-borne disease" in Zimbabwe's capital, Harare, and outlying areas. A common water-borne disease under such circumstances is cholera, which easily could have developed into a epidemic, causing many deaths.
A US$ 200,000 grant from USAID, channelled through UNDP, has allowed the purchase of chemicals needed for water purification and made it possible for Harare to increase its clean water stocks to as many as four days' worth.
- The city had problems in maintaining a constant water supply to all its residents due to inadequate chemicals because of foreign currency shortages, the UN reports today.
- In the long-term, however, the supply of clean water to Harare remains a concern, OCHA said. "The city's two main reservoirs, which are downstream from the area's industry, are susceptible to pollution."
Zimbabwe's dire economic situation, meanwhile, makes it nearly impossible to fund repairs and maintenance of the capital's infrastructure, leading to the rupture of pipes carrying treated water. Aggravating the situation, the water system requires an upgrade to serve the city's growing population.
- What began in 2002 as a food crisis in Zimbabwe has grown into a major humanitarian emergency, with people suffering the effects of a deteriorating economy, HIV/AIDS, depleted social services and policy constraints, according to OCHA.
Also the education system is at the brink of collapse. While the government earlier guaranteed free education to all Zimbabwean children, school fees are now skyrocketing, making basic education for their children out of reach for most Zimbabwean families.
As the country enters its fifth successive year of economic decline, Zimbabwe faces critical shortages of foreign exchange to maintain essential infrastructure and inflation has soared. Little help is to be expected from abroad, as most Western development aid agencies are in line with USAID; they only provide emergency aid.
- In addition, the HIV/AIDS pandemic is ravaging the country, the UN warns today. "Recent estimates indicate that around 34 percent of Zimbabweans age 15 to 40 is infected, and more than 2,500 people die every week of AIDS-related causes."
According to OCHA, delivery of health, education, social and public services has been undermined by a lack of finance and the loss of human resources to emigration and AIDS. Very few public institutions are now capable of delivering affordable services to the public.
- One result is that malaria, tuberculosis and cholera cases are on the rise, OCHA says. Another is that Zimbabweans face a severe food security crisis in 2004. An estimated 5.5 million people will require food aid there during the coming year. According to WFP, the hunger is now spreading rapidly from rural to urban areas.
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