Turning a Dump-Site into a fountain Of Hope: How MSF’s Sanitary Seals Are Purifying Underground Water in Harare’s Cholera Hotspots

Mrs Netsai Manthenga (46), a resident of Mbare National, recalls how they used to wake up as early as 4:00 in the morning to queue for water at Stoddard Hall in Mbare only to return home around mid-day. Elderly residents who failed to cope with the shoving and pushing at the water points would at times get their water from a nearby stream where raw sewage and dirty water that is usually drained from the Swimming pool nearby flows.

By Michael Gwarisa

It wasn’t easy,” she says, “Imagine spending eight hours queuing for water. At times we wouldn’t get it. At times we would go for three to four days without council water. To get water from Stodart hall, you really needed to have a muscle otherwise it was a complete hustle.”

Some residents used to fetch water from this dirty stream where raw sewage and dirty water from the swimming pool flows

In high density urban settings such as Mbare, the unmaintained sewerage network and emerging dumpsites due to non-collection of refuse by town authorities are suspected to be possible sources of contamination of shallow water tables and nearby boreholes. Mbare is one of the oldest high density suburbs in Harare and Cholera has been recurring mainly due to poor waste disposal practices and lack of access to clean and safe drinking water. A walk or drive around Mbare is met with stockpiles of uncollected refuse.

All smiles: Woman smiles all the way home after getting her bucket of safe and clean water at the Borehole

Even though the last Cholera outbreak was recorded in 2018, ingredients of a fresh wave of Cholera, Typhoid and other forms of Diarrhoeal diseases are rife in the suburb if the situation is not addressed holistically.

Luckily for Mrs Manthenga and the Mbare National Community, they have had a state of the art but cost effective borehole system that was installed by the Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF). The borehole is meant to complement council water supply and it has a sanitary seal which is used to protect the borehole from contamination. Despite the fact that the borehole was mounted at a point that used to be a garbage dumping site for most National residents, the placing of the sanitary seal makes the water from the borehole safe from any forms of contamination.

“This borehole has helped us a lot, the water we used to drink was not clean at all. At times we would go and ask for water from church premises or we would also get it from rusty a borehole down there but now that we have this borehole here, we have access to clean and safe water. We are no longer having people complaining of stomach aches as often as they used to,” said Mrs Manthenga.

To promote community ownership of the project, the MSF has handed over the borehole to the Mbare community which has since formed a five member committee named the Chikuru Hupenyu Borehole project. The committee oversees the day to day operations and maintenance of the borehole. To have a sustainable project that manages its own affairs, the committee levies US$1 per month per household and the money goes towards maintenance of the water project. They target to have put up a fence around the borehole premises by end of next month.

Mr Marvin Mudoka, the chairperson for Chikuru Hupenyu Borehole project said apart from managing the borehole, the committee is also involved in raising awareness on why residents must have access to safe drinking water.

The borehole system that was installed by MSF in Mbare

“The community have welcomed this initiative by MSF and we want to thank them. Between 25 and 50 households fetch water at the borehole every day. However, we have some who still drink water from unsafe sources for various reasons. We have been doing door-to-door visits, teaching people on the importance of drinking safe water,” said Mr Mudoka.

The MSF through its borehole diagnostic toolkit has to date inspected over 50 boreholes in Harare high density urban settings to understand the underlying causes of borehole contamination and according to their findings, majority of boreholes in Harare have poor or no sanitary seals which protect the boreholes from anthropogenic pollution.

Meanwhile, MSF Zimbabwe Water and Sanitation Supervisor, Engineer Ignations Takavada said 
they have developed a number or boreholes with sanitary seals around Mbare and another one
in Stoneridge, in the peripheries of Harare to manage the possible contamination of 

“Here we drilled this borehole using an innovative technique of sealing using cement grouting. As you can see, just around this borehole, we are on top of a garbage dumping site and also along this stream, the water is not clean at all. We have developed this borehole with the use of a sanitary seal to protect this borehole and groundwater from contamination which may be caused by the surrounding waste that can be dumped around.

“This is one of the boreholes. For this borehole, we developed it to support the community with clean water after the outbreaks. Normally, as MSF, we are a medical organisation but we also do these interventions as preventive measures because most of the outbreaks are as a result of people drinking unclean or unsafe water,” said Engineer Takavada.

MSF has also conducted capacity building trainings for various stakeholders or players within the water sector who were trained on how to develop boreholes in vulnerable areas using the Sanitary Seal technique.  These include the District Development Fund (DDF) and the Ministry of Lands Water, Climate and Rural Development.

The borehole in Mbare is yielding at least 30,000 liters of water which is enough to distribute in the Mmabre National community. The catchment for the borehole is around 5000 people even though the numbers fluctuate as per season. During the dry period, the number are higher largely because water supply from the City of Harare can be intermittent and water reservoirs will be low. The water point in Mbare also serves residents from other suburbs outside Mbare.

The water tanks have a 10,000 storage capacity each and the borehole capacity to supply 10,000 litres per hour meaning it can even support the whole southern side of Mbare with clean water. The solar panels were installed in such a way that their voltage capacity and current capacity is enough to pump the water in whatever overcast conditions.  A total US$45,000.00 was invested in the borehole.

MSF, under its public health agenda, has vowed for the improve National and Regional Borehole Drilling Standards and emphasizes on the proper implementation of these standards both at local and regional scale.

Related posts

Leave a Comment