Red Cross works with communities in Zimbabwe to improve water access

What a difference a year makes. Last year on World Water Day, the Red Cross water and sanitation programme in Chivi district, south-east Zimbabwe hadn’t even started. This year, the region has 50 new water points, 180 trained community health volunteers and 3,000 families now have access to clean water.

The Zimbabwe Red Cross, with support from the British Red Cross, is in the early stages of a five-year water and sanitation programme. Households are already benefiting from improved access to water and better still, this change is being driven by the communities within Chivi district.

Epidemics of cholera, malaria, diarrhoeal diseases and typhoid meant the area was identified as having a real need for better sanitation and water access. Diane Moody, British Red Cross Africa programme manager, explains: “During the dry season more than 70 per cent of the people we spoke to used water from unprotected sources and it would take them between two and six hours to fetch the water.”

Working together

The community took ownership of the project right from the beginning. Households were asked what would make the most difference to them in their daily lives. People said they wanted vulnerable groups to be reached, such as those that are housebound and those living with HIV. There was also a strong feeling that women should be included in the programme so they are represented within the development of their community.

One of the 180 Red Cross volunteers acting on this advice is Tizai Miidzo from Chomutondo village in Chivi district. He explains that while the technical elements of the project, such as installing water pumps, may be challenging, instilling better long-lasting health practices within the community is a challenge of a different kind.

But Tizai is already seeing change in the behaviour of the community and the secret of his success is engaging community leaders, the elderly and more vulnerable groups: “We speak about the importance of boiling water, highlight the effect of washing hands and visit households daily to check on improvements,” he says. “We are always there with them.”

Changing behaviours

As part of the Red Cross programme, Tizai attended a 14-day hygiene and sanitation training course. Volunteers from within the community are encouraged to take part in the programme and examine existing hygiene behaviour and understand how transmission of disease takes place, and how it can be prevented.

By the end of the programme, the Red Cross will have reached 100,000 community members within the district, leaving behind 350 improved boreholes, 50 new water points, 48 trained water pump technicians, a host of community health promoters and a community confident in its ability to access clean water and tackle sanitation-related disease.

Tizai says: “I have been a hygiene promoter for the past two months and I can already see small but significant changes. People are building racks for their cooking pots to keep them off the floor and rubbish pits to keep the village clean. They cover their food to protect it from flies and pay increased attention to their personal hygiene.” What a difference a year makes.