A RED alert on any matter calls for immediate and appropriate action. Such is the situation Zambia is in over the outbreak of cholera, particularly in the densely populated capital, Lusaka.
Thankfully Government, through the Ministry of Health and the local authority, has effected various interventions to help curb the spread of cholera, whose cases have been rising since the outbreak was reported about a fortnight ago.
It is commendable that the Lusaka City Council (LCC), Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit (DMMU) and the Lusaka Water and Sewerage Company (LWSC) have all been engaged in an effort to stop the spread of the highly contagious waterborne disease.
Some of the measures undertaken include increasing the provision of clean drinking water to townships affected by cholera. LWSC has responded immediately by erecting temporary water tanks in affected areas, which include Chipata, Mazyopa and Kanyama townships.
The provision of free water in cholera affected areas for the next one month is aimed at preventing possible consumption of untreated water from boreholes.
According to the LWSC, the company intends to build six permanent water kiosks in Mazyopa to enhance provision of clean water in the township.
That is the way to go. This perennial problem requires a permanent solution.
Our sister paper, the Sunday Mail, in its last edition, reported how, despite the threat of cholera, residents of Mazyopa have continued drinking water from shallow wells, some of them situated barely five metres from pit-latrines.
The first case of cholera was actually reported by a resident of Mazyopa, who took his sick child to Chipata First-Level Hospital. The sickness was confirmed as cholera. But he returned to the same hospital with his second child who had the same symptoms. It was also confirmed as cholera.
A number of water points in the adjacent Chipata township, where Mazyopa residents draw water from, tested positive for cholera. Even in the absence of tests, one could suspect that many of the wells in these townships could be contaminated as they are very close to pit latrines.
One of the boreholes in the area where residents draw water from, located at Mazyopa Efficacy Community School, did not test positive for cholera, but council and health officials who visited the school raised concern that the borehole is situated too close to the pit-latrine.
Health officials have been distributing bottles of water to residents in the area, but most women complained that the bottles were insufficient.
If there is one thing that is clear here, it is the fact that Zambia needs permanent solutions, particularly in these high-density and low-income areas, not just in Lusaka but also in other parts of the country.
We know that the first outbreak of cholera in Zambia coincided with the drop in the economic performance of the country, which led to the emergence of all these settlements without proper social amenities. Most of these areas suffer from poor environment health services, unhealthy housing, as well as inadequate water supply, among other challenges. This has led to various health problems in these areas including diarrhoea, which is one of the major causes of mortality in children less than five years old.
But make no mistake, it is not just in these high-density areas which Zambia should be worried about. Some low-density areas like Lusaka’s Chalala have their own water sources, mostly boreholes. Good initiative, you would say, after all they do not have to depend on the LWSC for provision of water.
But private well water supplies can as well pose a risk to health, particularly if they are not properly protected, maintained or indeed treated. They may actually be contaminated with germs or bugs or indeed other chemicals. These microbes can cause serious illness.
Like the experts say, you cannot always tell whether your supply is safe without an assessment. In any case, contamination will not always change the colour, smell or taste of the water.
There are other factors that can lead to water contamination. For instance, at a farm, it could be that the water is contaminated with germs from the manure of the grazing animals or indeed the slurry or from wastewater treatment systems. Or indeed water may pick up nitrates and pesticides applied crops.
The best therefore is to have water tested regularly, not just for residents of such townships as Mazyopa but also for emerging locations like Chalala and Meanwood.
The solution as we see it, unless in extreme scenarios, is to be connected to a regulated public supply wherever possible.