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Zimbabwe diary: Fighting cholera

Water carriers, Harare
There were long queues for the clean water

More than 3,300 people have died from the worst outbreak of cholera in Zimbabwe's history, which has infected nearly 66,000 people.

The epidemic has been fuelled by the country's economic meltdown, which has led to the collapse of the country's water, health and sanitation systems.

Matthew Cochrane, from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, has been keeping a daily diary for the BBC News website this week, as he travels around Zimbabwe to see things for himself. This is his final entry.

FRIDAY 6 FEBRUARY, CHITUNGWIZA, HARARE

I watched 11,000 litres of clean water pumped into the jerry cans and plastic bottles of a cholera-affected community on Thursday. Not very often that you get to say that.

But as has been the case all week, things weren't what they seemed.


They don't like the chlorinated taste of the clean water
Raphael Bonnaud, French Red Cross

Whilst a group of people lined up at the distribution point to collect water, still more were huddled around the nearby borehole despite the water there being contaminated.

Raphael Bonnaud is with the French Red Cross water team.

"People still prefer the bore water, even though we have explained that it's not clean," he said.

"They don't like the chlorinated taste of the clean water, and they've been collecting water from the bore for years, so there's a behavioural element to it as well."

It's another sign of how complex this operation is, and of the importance of health and hygiene awareness raising.

Chitungwiza is a high-density suburb on the outskirts of Harare. It is home to one of the first and worst outbreaks of this cholera epidemic. It is not hard to see why.

Driving through the townships, houses seemed to be built on top of each other. Few if any have running water or sanitation.

Leaks

The local water authority is stretched beyond capacity, undermined by a lack of chemicals and faulty pipes.

map

About 45% of the water that is produced is lost due to leakages. To try and arrest this situation, we have set up a treatment plant at the Prince Edward water plant, and we're producing about 50,000 litres per day of high quality water.

At the Zimbabwe Red Cross headquarters in Harare we heard that we're on our way to meeting most if not all of our preliminary targets.

But around the country, the crisis rolls on.

Two provinces - Masvingo and Mashonaland Central - have experienced a four-fold increase in cases in the last two weeks.

And in Midlands Province, the number of cholera deaths has almost tripled.




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