People smell garbage in Zimbabwe capital

The smell of sewage and rotting garbage wafts into homes. Acrid smoke hangs in the air where families have tried to burn household waste. Garbage collection is the latest casualty as Zimbabwe's economy crumbles. With the start of seasonal rains, the effects are becoming unbearable in this poor southwestern Harare township. Trash is piled waist-high in the narrow streets, and reeking water stagnates in potholes, blocked sewers and drains.

"It is symptomatic of general decline and the national crisis as a whole," said Mike Davies, an official of the Combined Harare Ratepayers Association. Zimbabwe is suffering its worst economic crisis since independence from Britain in 1980, blamed largely on the often-violent seizure of thousands of white-owned commercial farms for redistribution to blacks. Four years of erratic rainfall have also disrupted the agriculture-based economy, leaving up to 4 million people in need of food aid in what was once a regional breadbasket. Three waste management firms have withdrawn collection services across half the capital, citing acute shortages of gasoline, spare parts and equipment, and saying they get too little in fees from the city. Most of the city's own garbage trucks have broken down. The few left service hospitals, shopping centers and areas close to the center, city authorities said in a report Wednesday.

Already, there is concern about disease spreading in the city of 2 million people. Last month, health authorities reported outbreaks of dysentery and food poisoning blamed on frequent water and power outages that cause toilet and sewage blockages.

Hundreds of diarrhea cases have been reported in recent weeks, including at least 12 children who died of dehydration, said a Harare physician, who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution in the increasingly autocratic state.

Executives at a Harare food processing factory told staff to filter and boil the water used after tests showed an increase in harmful bacteria. City authorities are believed to be using insufficient purifying chemicals in the drinking water due to shortages of hard currency needed to buy the materials. Plumbing firms say blockages in the ailing water system have worsened due to the use of sand and soil as household scourers. The price of cleaning materials have increased about six-fold this year, informs the AP. N.U.

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