An alarming cholera outbreak has struck Zimbabwe’s capital Harare as cases of the deadly diarrheal disease surge past 200, raising fears the dilapidated water and sanitation systems will be unable to contain the spread.
By May 19, health officials had recorded over 288 suspected cases of cholera in the capital city, with 84 cases already confirmed. The worst hit neighbourhoods include Budiriro, Glen View, Dzivarasekwa, Mt Pleasant, Mbare and Waterfalls.
While officials claim prevention and response teams have been activated, residents doubt crumbling public infrastructure and decrepit systems will be able to cope.
Local authorities have only issued halfhearted instructions for more hygienic practices – ordering the closure of unlicensed food vendors and telling businesses to improve their toilets. Schools, offices and workplaces have also been mandated to ensure running water and soap, though residents know these basic facilities are largely absent.
Cholera spreads quickly and easily in unsanitary conditions. The preventable but deadly disease can cause vomiting, rapid dehydration and kidney failure – killing victims within hours if untreated.
The situation in Harare bears grim echoes of the worst cholera outbreak in southern Africa between 2008 and 2009, when the disease rampaged across the region killing over 4,000 and affecting nearly 100,000.
As city-dwellers wonder if history will repeat itself, experts fear deteriorating circumstances in urban Zimbabwe have created the perfect conditions for cholera – with broken pipes,erratic water supply and overflowing sewers now matched with desperation and despair after years of economic crisis.