Challenges Faced by Shared Sanitation Communities During Bulawayo Water Shedding Times

Conflicts are on the rise in Bulawayo’s shared sanitation communities such as Iminyela and Mabuthweni (in ward 13) as residents struggle to rationalize health and hygiene needs due to the continued water rationing currently happening in Zimbabwe’s second largest City.

The City of Bulawayo is currently undergoing an official 72 hours per week water shedding (though practically on the ground some communities have gone for 15 – 21 days per month without tap water). The water shedding is due to low water levels in the City’s supply dams as a result of climate change induced droughts. Further compounding the situation is poor catchment management, poor attendance of water leakages/bursts, and lack of water stewardship.

Matabeleland Institute for Human Rights (MIHR) visited the Iminyela and Mabuthweni communities of ward 13 where residents are sharing toilets. The City’s design is that 4 houses share one toilet. However, during the visit, MIHR discovered that residents are now constantly in conflict because of:

  1.  Overcrowding and increased demand for toilets

In most of the houses, instead of one house having one family (maybe of 4 members) it was discovered that one house (a 3 roomed house) can now have 3 families and each family having 3 – 4 members. This therefore increases the toilet demand from an average of 16 individual users to an average of 36 individual users. This increases toilet usage and at this time when there is water shedding, it means hygiene standards drop drastically.

Overcrowding and demand for toilets is also being exacerbated by the fact that some toilets have completely blocked and that means many houses are now negotiating and utilizing just one toilet.

2. Poor hygiene practices

The residents, especially women and girls, complained of poor hygiene practices especially by males. They noted that some males just pee or defecate on the toilet floor or inside the chamber and leave the waste like that without flushing.            This has led to many resorting to locking their toilets. However, even those that lock are complaining of poor hygiene practices by the males. One woman recalled an incident where someone defecated inside a plastic bag and hid the bag with feces inside the cistern. Some women and men also complained about those families with children. They raised concern that some mothers are not monitoring their children going to the toilet which results in the toilet being messed up. The greater burden for toilet cleaning now lies on women and girls which inturn exposes them to diseases. Children are also greatly exposed as they may not have the wisdom to navigate around the waste.

3. Open defecation

Open defecation is also on the increase especially in passages, storm drains, neigh by bushes and derelict toilets/bathrooms. Some residents complained of young people and men (especially the drunk ones) who when they find the toilet open, will just pee or defecate at the door of the toilet. This is both unhygienic and unhealthy as it makes the locals vulnerable to diseases such as diarrhea.

Conclusion and Recommendations

MIHR recommends the following as remedial actions to ensure that residents of shared sanitation facilities enjoy their rights during the City’s water shedding period and they are protected from harm:

  • Residents need to organize educate each other, educate themselves and to police themselves to ensure that they practice high standards of hygiene and safety measures. The local leadership and civic society have a mammoth task on that.
  • The Bulawayo City Council needs to expedite the construction of individual household toilets. Civic society may also partner with the local authority in this process which began a few years back but is on a snail pace due to the local authority’s financial constraints.
  • The local authority may consider lessening the number of water shedding days/hours for such vulnerable communities or providing more water bowsers. This is a critical emergency measure to avert a serious cholera or diarrhea outbreak from that community.

(Khumbulani Maphosa is the Coordinator of MIHR. The organization is running a #ClaimYourWaterRights project supported by End Water Poverty. The project is part of the MIHR #StandUp4Water Campaign).

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