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Bricklayer’s Unconventional Solution Poses Health Hazards Amid Cholera Outbreak

By Fadzai Ndangana

GLEN NORAH – In the scorching heat, beads of sweat drip down Benjamin Chigodora’s (38) dirt-streaked face as he molds bricks using an unconventional ingredient – sewage water.

While his innovative solution addresses water scarcity and offers an environmentally friendly alternative, it also poses significant health risks, particularly amidst a raging cholera outbreak.

As a breadwinner with three children, Chigodora had to think outside the box to sustain his work as a bricklayer in the face of Zimbabwe’s water scarcity crisis. Recognizing the potential in sewage water, he embarked on an audacious experiment.

By blending sewage water with soil and other materials, Chigodora has discovered a way to create sturdy and cost-effective bricks. His newfound solution not only allows him to continue his work but also provides a sustainable remedy to the water crisis in his community, Glen Norah.

However, Chigodora’s innovative approach comes with a ticking time bomb of health hazards. Harare, the capital city, is grappling with a cholera outbreak, and the utilization of sewage water in brick-making poses significant risks to Chigodora and those residing nearby.

Cholera, a waterborne disease caused by Vibrio cholerae bacterium commonly found in contaminated water sources such as sewage, resurfaces as a formidable threat. The potential contamination of Chigodora’s bricks and his exposure to the disease put both him and others at risk.

Zimbabwe has recorded 108 new suspected cholera cases, (3) suspected deaths and (2) laboratory confirmed results. The cases were reported from Chitungwiza City (34), Buhera (31), Harare (11), Mutare (11), Gutu (11), Zaka (4),Chipinge (3), Chegutu (2) and Sanyati (1).

In an interview, Chigodora acknowledged the dangers but stressed the desperation that led him to this unconventional practice. Burst pipes in early January left him with limited options as he struggled to support his family. “Despite the ongoing outbreak, I have to take care of my family. Working with sewage is not new, as the same water leaking here flows directly to Mukuvisi River, located less than 200 meters away, and eventually returns as tap water,” he explained.

Chigodora’s determination to generate income and provide for his family leaves him with no other choice but to continue molding bricks. His goal is to produce one thousand bricks per day, earning him US$120 per week.

However, the risks associated with using sewage water, which may contain the cholera bacterium, cannot be ignored. Cholera manifests through severe diarrhea, vomiting, and dehydration, often leading to fatal consequences if left untreated. Furthermore, exposure to sewage water heightens the risk of spreading other waterborne diseases, including typhoid, hepatitis A, and dysentery.

To minimize the chances of contracting or transmitting these diseases, individuals working with sewage must adhere to strict precautions. This includes wearing protective clothing and gloves, practicing frequent handwashing, and thoroughly disinfecting any surfaces or equipment that come into contact with sewage water.

The Director of Harare Residents Trust, Precious Shumba said the government need to address the water and sewage issue with urgency to curb the cholera outbreak.

“Cholera cases are a cause for concern to the residents. All the efforts to handle the outbreak will be insignificant if the water supply situation remains dire. The sewerage bursts in the communities should be attended to as a matter of urgency,” he said.

As of the latest cholera situation report by the Ministry of Health, Zimbabwe has recorded 5,788 suspected cholera cases, with 38 confirmed deaths, 120 suspected deaths as of October 27, 2023. Cholera remains a significant public health concern, particularly in developing countries with inadequate sanitation and hygiene practices.

With the implementation of proper prevention and treatment measures, cholera outbreaks can be controlled, mitigating the impact of the disease. Monitoring the quality of sewage water used for brick-making purposes and seeking prompt medical attention for any symptoms of waterborne illness are crucial steps in ensuring the safety of those involved in sewage-related work.

While Chigodora’s innovation has provided a temporary solution to Zimbabwe’s water crisis, the health risks associated with his unconventional method underscore the urgent need for sustainable and safe alternatives. As the community grapples with the cholera outbreak, finding a delicate balance between innovation and public health becomes paramount.