Cholera bites towns hard

Urban areas are associated with astute planning. However, as JAMESON CHAULUKA writes, the resurgence of cholera cases there is a clear sign that water supply challenges have spared no location. The unprotected well, located 20 metres from the only long-drop toilet for the household, is the main source of water for the individual who was admitted to Bangwe Clinic…

Urban areas are associated with astute planning. However, as JAMESON CHAULUKA writes, the resurgence of cholera cases there is a clear sign that water supply challenges have spared no location.

The unprotected well, located 20 metres from the only long-drop toilet for the household, is the main source of water for the individual who was admitted to Bangwe Clinic after developing cholera symptoms.

The residential area and clinic are in Blantyre City.

“Sometimes, people think that things are okay in town. The truth is that there are many challenges, some of them bordering on water and sanitation. We still have some people in Blantyre who use water from unsafe sources,” said Evance Kapwepwe Chatsika, one of the Bangwe residents.

Indeed, at dams such as Chiwembe, and even Chimwankhunda, which have become a haven for Water Hyacinth, people are seen fetching water for domestic use.

One of the people we found in Chiwembe, a 12-year-old boy we cannot mention for ethical reasons, said they depend on dam water because his parents cannot afford to settle water bills.

“The water board people disconnected people from our house some two years ago, barely a month after my father got retrenched at one of the soap-making factories. We have been depending on dam water ever since. My mother boils the water whenever she wants to use it for cooking,” the boy said.

It is such factors that are, slowly but surely, turning cities such as Blantyre into cholera hotspots.

Not surprisingly, news that a cholera case was registered in Bangwe Township has received swift responses from public officials.

For instance, Minister of Water and Sanitation Abida Mia and Deputy Minister of Health Enoch Phale visited the house of the patient in Nkhukuteni Village, Bangwe Township, straight from cheering him at the clinic.

Mia and Phale later appreciated another potentially contaminated water source— a river nearby— where women wash their clothes because even the water from the unprotected well close to the toilet is regarded as too ‘precious’ to be ‘wasted’ on washing.

Wife to Village Headman Nkhukuteni said scarcity of potable water is putting their lives at risk of cholera infection.

She said the problem also puts them at risk of catching other water-borne diseases.

“The water kiosks that are in service are at least three kilometres away and most of them are closed because operators have accumulated huge bills.

“The other problem is that the water we buy from wells is too expensive for the majority of people around here,” she said.

Mia conceded that the water situation was dire in high density areas like Nkhukuteni in Bangwe, along with other cholera hotspots across the country.

She said her ministry has both short and long term plans to ensure provision of clean and safe water to people in the area.

“It is a sorry situation here. In the short term, we will be providing water in bowsers at least twice a day. For the water kiosks which have accumulated huge water bills, we have put aside their arrears until January to make sure that people have access to clean and safe water.

“When it’s time for connections, people around here will benefit from [the government’s] free water connection programme so that everyone has access to clean and safe water. The situation on the ground here is very risky; as such, we really need to move fast,” she said.

Phale said the situation is concerning, adding that the government did not expect cholera to be wreaking havoc in 19 districts at this time of the year.

He, however, said the government is taking measures, citing the treatment of infected people and disease mitigation efforts as some of the measures being taken.

“Working together with our partners, we are putting together necessary supplies to make sure that those that are infected are treated at treatment centres. We have enough manpower and medical supplies in all treatment centres but, above all, we are intensifying public awareness on how to prevent the spread of the disease.

“We have deployed community extension workers and added additional resources. As such, we are able to provide Chlorine for the treatment of water we get from sources that are not safe,” Phale said.

The country has registered over 2,500 cases of cholera and 86 deaths.

Nkhotakota is leading the list of districts hard hit, with 717 cases and 17 deaths registered so far, while Blantyre is second at 546 but is leading in terms of cases of death at 22.

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