HARARE – Thousands of people are without water after heavy rains that struck Zimbabwe, United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) has warned.
Flooding triggered by heavy rains has overwhelmed the poor urban drainage system, contaminating the water supply.
This comes as government is struggling to raise needed funds to aid flood-affected regions after a disappointing response from the international community to its $188 million emergency appeal.
Concerns are growing about the health and welfare of those affected.
The statistics make for a sad reading that speaks to a national catastrophe: the floods have claimed scores of lives, 855 marooned villagers have been airlifted, while among those rescued were 86 terminally ill people and 501 school-going children.
Few dollars of local and international assistance have been pledged since government revised its appeal for international assistance this week to help provide food, temporary shelter and clothing for more than 1 500 people affected by widespread flooding following weeks of heavy rains.
The floods have been declared a national disaster.
Unicef said the issue of water availability in Zimbabwe has been a paradox between excess water and too little water available, infringing on children’s rights and their welfare.
During the 2015/2016 rainy season, the country suffered a crippling El Niño-induced drought which came after successive years of poor and inadequate rainfall.
The successive droughts suffered by the country led to many water sources drying up across the country.
In areas with piped water such as many towns and growth points, taps ran dry as water rationing was instituted.
In areas without piped water many of the available water sources ran dry such as boreholes, wells, rivers and dams. This meant communities had to go farther to find water.
In contrast, the following 2016/2017 rainy season was a complete opposite which saw above normal rainfall which led to widespread flooding in parts of the country.
“Either way the challenge faced by many communities and especially children is that of access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene,” Unicef said in a statement yesterday. “The other challenge posed by the excessive rainfall is the high risk of contamination of the available water sources as both latrines and water sources are flooded.
“This further exacerbates the challenges of access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene.”
This emerged as the UN observed World Water Day yesterday, marked on March 22, designed to highlight how water can create paid and decent work and contribute to a greener economy and sustainable development.
The excess and violent rains have become a curse, resulting in widespread damage to infrastructure.
Extensive damage has been wrought to key infrastructure such as bridges, schools and clinics and by February 28, 74 primary schools had been badly affected by floods in the southern parts of the country.
Unicef said going forward, Zimbabwe needs to plan for and mitigate against extreme weather patterns that affect children’s ability to access safe water and which negatively impact their welfare and rights.
“Water is elemental; without it, nothing can grow. But around the world, millions of children lack access to safe water — endangering their lives, undermining their health, and jeopardizing their futures. This crisis will only grow unless we take collective action now,” said Unicef executive director Anthony Lake.