Mob runs riot as Zimbabwe runs out of water

Children go to fetch water in Harare
The Zimbabwe National Water Authority turned off the pumps in the capital after it ran out of chemicals needed to to purify supplies (Desmond Kwande/AFP/Getty Images)

Water supplies to residents in Harare were cut by the authorities yesterday as Zimbabwe’s cholera epidemic tightened its grip and the city witnessed its worst unrest for a decade.

The Zimbabwe National Water Authority turned off the pumps in the capital after it ran out of purifying chemicals. With cholera cases soaring above 11,000 across the country, and an anthrax outbreak ravaging the the countryside, David Parirenyatwa, the Health Minister, urged Zimbabweans to stop shaking hands to avoid spreading disease.

Companies and government offices, especially those in high-rise buildings, were sending workers home by midday as lavatories became blocked. “My office stinks and the toilet is a disgusting site,” said Mary Sakupwene, a secretary. “I won’t go back until the water’s on again.”

The four-star Jameson Hotel stopped taking guests and other less exclusive ones closed. Restaurants provided buckets of water for hand-washing and flushing. There was a sharp increase in people turning up at the Harare Sports Club – served by boreholes – for their ablutions after their home taps ran dry. It notified members that from today they would be charged $US2 (£1.34) for a shower.

In Harare’s townships, some of which have been without water for two years, 20 litres of water from one of the thousands of backyard hand-dug wells can cost $1. All wells hold the danger of cholera. “What I am afraid of is now that the rainy season has come, the faeces lying in the bushes will be washed into shallow wells and contaminate the water,” said Mr Parirenyatwa.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) urged President Mugabe to accept international humanitarian help. “The country is reaching a catastrophic level, in terms of food, health delivery, education,” said Morgan Tsvangirai, the MDC leader. “Everything seems to be collapsing around us.”

The seething anger felt by ordinary Zimbabweans exploded yesterday as hundreds of off-duty soldiers went on the rampage in the centre of Harare. Witnesses said that the violence erupted at a bus depot on the edge of the city centre where soldiers, frustrated at not being able to draw cash from banks, confronted illegal moneychang-ers. The dealers scattered and the soldiers turned on the city, followed by civilians spurring them on.

The mobs stoned cars and looted shops. In the panic, home-bound workers fled and traffic jammed as motorists tried to turn back from the scene.

It was the first serious public unrest since the riots over food price increases ten years ago. The disturbance brought a swift and brutal response from the authorities who swamped the area with heavily armed para-military police and troops. At least one man was shot.

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December 2, 2008

Source: The Times

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