Tide is turning in Zimbabwe cholera outbreak

Efforts by a Tearfund partner to stem the tide of cholera in Zimbabwe are showing signs of success.

Months of preventative work have been going on in Bulawayo to fix the city's century-old crumbling sewage infrastructure which has fallen into disrepair because the cash-strapped local council is unable to pay workers and invest in maintaining the system.

City council staff don't have vehicles or even gloves and overalls to do their jobs. Lack of equipment caused two workers to die after they were overcome by fumes while repairing a sewer.

Broken pipes and sewer blockages have led to open streams of raw human waste running through the streets which in turn have caused cholera outbreaks.

A Tearfund partner has paid for council worker transport costs and given staff protective clothing and equipment so they can get the sewerage system working.

The result has been that since December more than 800 blockages have been cleared.

Across Zimbabwe the cholera outbreak is declining, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Last month it reported four deaths, compared to 13 the previous month.

The total number of people contracting cholera is 97,400 and the death toll is 4,271 since August 2008.

Tearfund's Karyn Beattie, who recently visited Bulawayo, says cholera fatalities there stand at under 20 compared with more than 600 in the capital Harare: 'Cases of new infections have slowed significantly,' she said.

Much work remains to be done however. A Tearfund team accompanying Bulawayo city council engineers visited the home of a 51-year-old widow called Sabina.

She had a manhole outside her back door from which raw sewage was flowing down the side of her house and out into the street.

Sabina explained this had been going on for six months and sewage had on occasions entered her house.

'At times the sewage overflows and comes up the toilet,' said Sabina. 'I'm so tired of this place. Who can stay in this place? I'm trapped.

'I'm alone here with my children and I'm stressed about the situation. My husband died nine years ago.'

As she was speaking, city council engineers got to work on clearing the manhole blockage.

Another area of Tearfund partner involvement in drought-prone Bulawayo is working with the council to restore 20 boreholes in the poorest parts of the city.

Many have been neglected and some have been vandalised but when working they can supply clean drinking water, a valuable asset when the area's reservoirs are also suffering through lack of investment.

Tearfund's partner is also helping vulnerable people, such as those living with HIV, to use land around the boreholes to develop market gardens.