A majority of Zimbabweans have poor access to safe drinking water, including those who live in urban centres. A deadly cholera outbreak in 2008 and 2009 killed more than 4,000 people, highlighting the desperate state of the country's water supply and sanitation. In fact, cholera affects the nation on an annual basis; though often contained, it does lead to more fatalities. Other illnesses related to poor water quality are prevalent in the country, including diarrhoea, skin and eye diseases, malaria, and dysentery.
Drought is also a recurring problem that severely limits local water supply and which has led to poor harvests and a lack of pastures for livestock—especially in areas where natural resource management is not fully sustainable.
At health clinics where babies are delivered, the lack of water has led to unsafe and unhygienic conditions. In some cases, expectant mothers have been requested to bring their own water with them. Some mothers will give birth at home due to the lack of clinic water, which increases the deadly risks for themselves and their babies due to complications during birth.
Schools also lack safe or sufficient water supply, which means that students get sick from drinking contaminated water, must spend significant time collecting and carrying water to drink during the day, and are also unable to wash their hands after using the toilet.
Medair has been actively providing relief and recovery in Zimbabwe since 2010.
Droughts are more frequent and severe in Matebeleland South than in other parts of Zimbabwe. In the rural districts of Bulilima and Mangwe, health clinics and schools face severe water shortages that cause unsafe conditions and discourage attendance. Women and children generally gather water from holes in dried-out riverbeds, unprotected wells, and rainwater ponds, where water is highly susceptible to contamination. In fact, five of the 10 most common illnesses in these districts are related to poor water quality.
Zimbabwe’s second largest city is dealing with severe water shortages that threaten the health and livelihood status of the population. Cholera remains a deadly health risk in Zimbabwe, with new cases still appearing in urban and rural areas. Bulawayo is home to 1.5 million people and is regarded as the business capital of Zimbabwe. The city urgently needs improvements to its water system to protect its most vulnerable residents.