In the colonial Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe was proud of its motto Sunshine city a bright city long avenues shaded by jacarandas, clean streets with hardly any mosquitoes and exuberant vegetation. The postcard jumped through the air after the economic crisis that devastated the country at the beginning of this century.
The rupture first week of September of a sewage collector has triggered a biblical plague, cholera, which spread through the suburb of Glen View of Harare. The epidemic continues out of control with 9,000 people suspected of being infected already.
The first fatality was recorded on September 6. A week later, the government decreed a national state of emergency, to prevent it from spreading throughout the Southern African region.
In the financial center and in the rich neighborhoods of North Harare, the supply works. In the middle class, there is running water, although it is not potable.
In the last step are the suburbs, the townships of the south and the new districts in expansion of the northwest. The disinherited of independence and the revolution of Robert Mugabe, until a few months ago the longest-lived dictator in the world, have to resort to wells of all kinds.
One of those suburbs is Glen View. With close to 100,000 inhabitants, it is one of many slums that grow on the outskirts of large African cities: a main asphalted artery from which many sand tracks leave. The one-story houses, built in brick or adobe, some with a small orchard in the back, are scattered among the brush.
In one of those houses, at number 14 of Muchaombera Avenue, lived one of the first victims of the cholera epidemic. Jane Nyamaweda, 62 years old and five children, was preparing dinner on Saturday, September 8, when her stomach began to ache.
His family attends in the main room of the house. “My brother-in-law took her right away to the only medical clinic we have in Glen View,” says Sibongile, one of her three daughters.
The health workers transferred the sick woman to the infectious hospital Beatriz, in the capital. The next morning, Jane phoned her daughter Sibongile, asking her to come and take care of her. “In the room there were flies and traces of vomiting down the hall.” On Monday, Jane woke up with diarrhea and repeated vomiting. He died at nightfall.
“We are worse served than in the 2008 epidemic, ” complains Wendy, another of her daughters. “Ten years ago, at the first symptom of cholera you were admitted and given medicine. Now, the toilets have not even come to disinfect the house. ”
Jane was the sustenance of her family. He brought goods of all kinds from South Africa and resold them. Her children believe that her mother became infected during a visit to a private Iranian doctor who treated her for stomach ailments. What they can not understand is that the cholera bacteria was in the well, a short distance from their house, where they have been supplying water for years.
The City Hall of Harare took several days to close it. The neighbors suspect that this well was one of the first to be contaminated by the faecal collector breaking.
The family living in the house closest to the closed well is under the threat of cholera. “Of course we are afraid. We thank God for not making us sick. Social services insist that we wash our hands several times a day and that we boil the water, “says Naomi, 21, with a baby on her back.
The road that vertebrates Glen View leads to a clearing. It is the neuralgic center of the neighborhood: a basic supermarket, wooden shops that offer products of first necessity and a market.
This is where the City Council has installed a huge plastic tank with drinking water and six pipes that do not stop working. “I come for water two or three times a day,” says Perseverance, 22. “I can come as many times as I want. Water is for everything, except for laundry. ” While saying this, cover the plastic bucket full of water, put it on your head and leave.
The new government of Zimbabwe decreed the national state of emergency on September 12 and has released a game of 48 million euros to combat the epidemic. The official death toll is 49 people in the country although independent sources already speak of 500.
July Moyo, at the head of the crisis cabinet, has told the national press that “the worst scenario is around 100,000 infected, although the most optimistic figure is 50,000. ”
Itai Rusiki calls himself a health activist. He directs the local NGO CWGH, which offers technical assistance in health issues. “The sewage system, the collectors and the network that supplies water to Harare is a colonial heritage. It was built by the British more than 50 years ago.
Now it is obsolete. The City Council has not spent one euro on its maintenance, only patch the damage. ” Itai has installed a well at the entrance of his house, which supplies the entire neighborhood. “This outbreak has not caught us by surprise. Cholera is an endemic disease in Zimbabwe. There are dead every year. It is inadmissible that people continue to die from such an ancestral epidemic. ”
Medical authorities in Harare have erected the first dam against cholera at the only public hospital in Glen View. Its access is restricted to health personnel. When going through the entrance gate, you must wash your hands with disinfectant and fumigate your shoes.
In the central courtyard they have installed five stores where they classify the sick. “The first 15 days was a continuous trickle of cholera-infected patients, but we have been dropping patients for a few days,” says Ephrai Winiko, one of the center’s nurses.
The state of emergency has forced schools to close. It is not the case of the one managed by the Dominican nuns in the center of Harare. It has more than a thousand students. Sister Angela is a German nurse by birth and a Zimbabwean vocation.
He has been in the country for 56 years and it is not the first time he has faced cholera. “In the 2008 epidemic, they sent me to the mountains on the border with Mozambique. One night a woman arrived with diarrhea and vomiting. We could not do anything for her. He passed away that same dawn “. In that outbreak, 4,500 people died.
The emergency decree prohibits large gatherings, including mass religious ceremonies. “In the mass, we avoid shaking hands when wishing peace,” says Sr. Angela. “In this country, cholera no longer allows us or wish us peace.”
The authorities are aware of the risk of the epidemic spreading to other countries. At the land border with Zambia, to the north, there are sanitary controls for those crossing to the other side. But at the Harare International Airport, passengers who leave Zimbabwe are not checked. Five countries border the former Rhodesia and the worst news for a region as stable as southern Africa is that cholera becomes an international epidemic.