Low-income communities fear hunger more than Covid-19

By Michelle Chifamba

Harare’s high-density suburb of Dzivarasekwa 2 is home to 35-year-old Loyce Mudzviti, a local hairdresser who makes a living from braiding people’s hair and owns a small trading business where she sells basic commodities.

Business for her is fairly stable although she is worried about contracting Covid-19, her fear of going hungry is much bigger.

“The living conditions that most low-income communities are subjected to make us more vulnerable to contracting the virus in the event that someone in the area tests positive, but that is the least of our worries, as we fear hunger more than the disease,” she said.

Dzivarasekwa is among Zimbabwe’s most densely-populated communities, most of them living in tightly-squeezed dwellings. It shares with many other Harare residential areas’ serious water and sanitation challenges where several others in different parts of the capital have gone for several months without water. 

Mudzviti said: “There is no water and we share a toilet with other three families and each family has approximately five or six members.”

According to humanitarian experts, most parts of the city accommodate low-income families who live in crammed households and sustain themselves from hand to mouth.

Citizens Health Watch Trustee’s Fungisai Dube, said although the lockdown is inevitable the government must set up necessary mitigation strategies that include the need to provide water and sanitation for most households in low-income communities so that the virus is contained.

“The government should come up with short-term strategies that can improve the accessibility of water to the people at this critical time,” Dube said.

“Families of six, eight or ten people share a small space, making self-isolation challenging. While some people are weak from poor diets, toilets are shared and parts of the population have been faced with outbreaks of cholera and typhoid.”  

Across from Dzivarasekwa in Glen View 8, Musekiwa Kore, stays with his family of five crammed in one bedroom and a small kitchen. He said the fears of contracting Covid-19 were far from him as he had survived and witnessed the worst cases of cholera and typhoid.

“The lockdowns are threatening our fears of death from hunger as most people have been living from hand to mouth and very few people in low-income communities can afford to stock food that can last for up to three weeks,” Kore said.

Safety nets

Civil-rights activist Owen Dhliwayo, said it was imperative for government to support its lockdown with social safety nets such as transport, food-cash vouchers and reliable water to low-income communities as well as the marginalised sections of the community such as women, children and people with disabilities. 

Dhliwayo said: “Covid-19 cannot be curbed by lockdowns and curfews only; the restrictions should be supported with safety nets for the public. 

“The government is enforcing lockdowns and curfews but these are strategies without a plan. The country does not have a plan to address the challenges besides the lockdowns. 

“Instead of curbing the disease, under Zimbabwe’s informal economy the lockdowns are actually exposing people to the pandemic who spend hours waiting for transport, or at boreholes looking for clean water.” 

Harare City Council Health Director, Dr Prosper Chonzi, said Council had plans in place to provide reliable water to all communities through water-tanks, providing running water from tapes and the rehabilitation of boreholes.

“The nature of the disease is that people should practice social distancing and frequently wash hands and exercise high levels of hygiene. It is difficult when there is poor access to water especially in low-income communities, but we have been making efforts to avail the clean water to communities by any means,” said Dr Chonzi.

“It will be irresponsible for us if we failed to avail water to these communities. We are making efforts to provide the basic services that will enable the people to protect themselves and prevent themselves from contracting the disease in the best possible way.” 

The detrimental effects of the global pandemic have continued to impact the lives of people in the lower strata of the economy, who have to grapple with the monstrous challenge of staying at home in the face of declining food-security in their families.

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