'Vendors, kombi operators turn city alleys into toilets'

A LACK of ablution facilities in Harare’s Central Business District (CBD) has turned the Sunshine City into a health time bomb as most alleyways have been turned into toilets where the multitudes of vendors, people living on the streets, commuter omnibus drivers and conductors relieve themselves.

Apart from alleyways, bottles filled with urine are a common site at bus ranks, as drivers and their conductors use them when they are too lazy to visit an alley.

A survey by the Weekend Post shows that there are only four public pay toilets in the CBD that do not offer 24-hour service.
The toilets situated at Market Square and Fourth Street bus termini are often left vacant as continuous pipe bursts of raw sewer render them unfit for use.

Remaining toilets at the Rezende Street terminus and at the island along Jason Moyo Avenue are the only reliable toilets that are catering for the multitudes of people who frequent the CBD every day.

Other public facilities like the one at the corner of Chinhoyi Street and Kwame Nkrumah Avenue are dogged with water problems where the female section has had to be closed. Most toilets around the city, only manage to open the male section while the female is always closed, as men are comfortable just using urinaries unlike women who use toilet seats.

According to Harare City Council’s spokesperson Michael Chideme, the city has 113 public toilets, distributed throughout the suburbs and the CBD.

He said presently 89 toilets are in working order; while 23 are defective and receiving attention. “There are 21 toilets in the CBD and they are all in working order. Four of the toilets are pay toilets and are all accessible to the public,” Chideme said.
He said that at times some of the toilets are closed because of technical faults. However, once repairs are done, they will be opened to the public.

Chideme said council has the responsibility to keep the toilets clean and does routine maintenance of the toilets to ensure they are accessible and available for use by the public. Security guards at some alleyways are now milking desperate people by charging a fee to use the open spaces.

A vendor who operates along Robert Mugabe Road said using the alley is better than the toilet as they are either closed or too smelly. He said the alley is better as it is cleaned by rain water and the smell is refreshed because it is in the open.

“Kuzowona ndafamba kusvika paCopacabana nekupresswa kwandinenge ndaita, panotoita ma1 chaiwo. Mukoto wepaNagarjis utori bho (It will take me a long time to get to the Copacabana toilet, of which the alley close to Nagarjis is a better option),” he said.

Last year, the Harare International Festival of the Arts (Hifa) worked together with council to refurbish the Rezende Street toilet.

Tafadzwa Simba said Hifa is integrally linked to the City of Harare, hence its various projects over the years related to urban regeneration efforts within its host city.

He said Hifa bequeaths many direct and indirect benefits to audiences and the general public. This is all in line with bringing the City’s standards to level’s that the residents and the country deserve.

“In partnership with the City of Harare, we will be refurbishing the ladies’ public toilet on Rezende Street in the capital. “It will remain free for use by the public. This is due to the fact that Hifa has observed that there is a severe shortage of public ablution facilities which meet minimum acceptable standards, let alone standards congruent with a world-class city.

“Women have been most acutely affected by this shortage and that also has a bearing on their safety and wellbeing when they seek ablution facilities late at night for instance,” he said.
Community Working Group on Health (CWGH) executive director Itai Rusike said the provision of functional public toilets is critical to improving the living conditions of the population.

Rusike said provision of public toilets contributes significantly to the reduction in morbidity and mortality from diarrhoeal diseases however, the current situation is conducive to transmission of diseases.

“The current environment in the CBD is characterised by poor and inadequate water supplies, breakdown in sewerage systems, inadequate sanitation coupled with increased urban unplanned overcrowded settlements and poor enforcement of laws and regulations that protects health has increased the exposure of the Harare residents to hazardous factors”

“The current economic decline is now affecting essential infrastructure such as water and waste disposal causing outbreaks of diseases and other health problems.
“Generally, people tend to use alleys and darks corners when they cannot access public toilets thereby fuelling the breeding of rodents, flies and bad odours”

“Surprisingly, pay toilets in the CBD seem to be always working comparing with the free public toilets notwithstanding the fact that we have farmers who come to Harare every day to sell their produce including other visitors to the CBD who may not necessarily have the money for the pay toilets and may end up relieving themselves in some bushes, including alleys,” he said.
Rusike said women should always be prioritised when it comes to functional public toilets as some of them may also have babies who may need nappy changing.

The CWGH leader said the closure of their toilets just shows the structure of the local authority not being sensitive to the needs of women in terms of water and sanitation.

He said the provision of safe and efficient working public toilets is one of the most important responsibilities of HCC and other local authorities as healthy environments and living conditions are essential rights for people.

“The City of Harare needs to strengthen its health education and health promotion efforts on hand washing after using the toilet firstly by improving water supply and sanitation  as this contributes significantly to reducing illness and death from diarrhoeal diseases,” Rusike said. —Helen Kadirire

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