If you turn on the taps in Bulawayo today, you won’t get clean water. A vicious drought across Zimbabwe and other parts of southern Africa has left many people desperate and at risk of disease. This is fast becoming a humanitarian emergency.
According to local reports, some people have gone for three weeks without clean tap water. They are forced to spend nights sleeping in queues for water trucks, waiting to fill up their jerry cans.
Over the past year, Zimbabwe has experienced its lowest rainfall since 1981. The ongoing climate crisis has meant less rainfall year by year. The start of the rainy season has also shifted from November to mid-January.
In Bulawayo, the city council has introduced a programme of ‘water shedding’ (or rationing) with households only getting water once or twice a week. Most of the wells have run dry. Only the deep boreholes are producing water.
Water from rusty pipes produces contaminated drinking water. And now, empty and damaged water pipes are often filling up with sewer water which then comes out of people’s taps. Many people have now resorted to using these unclean sources of water, leading to outbreaks of diarrhoea, and the threat of cholera and typhoid.
Amid a challenging political and economic context, the ongoing recovery from 2019’s Cyclone Idai, as well as the constraints of a coronavirus lockdown, many Zimbabweans are struggling to keep their hopes up.
Praying for rain
Believe, who is 22 years old and lives in Bulawayo, says, ‘We have prayed, and we are still praying, but l think it’s time to stop and wait for the call of God.’
Local church leader Dina Mpofu told us: ‘[We] are suffering. Just today, one of our church members was buried after drinking contaminated water.’
With no rainfall, crops don’t grow and there’s no harvest. People are going hungry.
‘We are having to work extra hard and put way more effort to do the basics of daily life,’ says 22-year-old Kudakwashe, also from Bulawayo. ‘My prayer request would be for God's provision of daily bread.’
Reaching out to those in need
‘Over the last five years, Tearfund in Zimbabwe has been working with our partners to respond to the droughts,’ says Idzai Murimba, Tearfund’s Deputy Country Director for Zimbabwe. ‘This includes helping communities to adapt to the changing climate. With this training the communities we work with are becoming equipped to analyse, predict, prepare and respond to local disasters – such as drought.
‘We are so thankful to our supporters who stood with us in prayer and generously gave to our Lent Appeal so that this important work can continue. As you can see, it is needed more than ever.’
Tearfund is also supporting our partners as they work with communities to increase awareness of vital hygiene and sanitation practices. This means that households are trained on the importance of boiling water before using it and how to store it safely. This will help them keep their families safe from diseases.
Tearfund has a unique position in Zimbabwe, working with extensive church networks that reach almost every part of the country.
Churches in Bulawayo are lobbying the local council to ensure the provision of safe water. They are also sharing information about drinking safe water and encouraging families to visit the local health centre when showing symptoms of diarrhoea.
Reverend Useni Sibanda is part of Tearfund’s Inspired Individual network. He is based in Zimbabwe and is helping out the communities in need in Bulawayo. ‘At the moment we have sent some water bowsers (containers full of water), and also we are still continuing with food distribution,’ he says. Meanwhile, he is continuing to look for ways he can work alongside other churches to help those in need.
Lenience Mlambo, a 20-year-old student from Bulawayo, asks us to pray for these specific points: ‘Pray for the families that have been directly or indirectly affected by this drought. Pray for rain. And pray for the people in positions of power and authority to make wise decisions for the greater good.’