8 Things we learned about Water and Sanitation in Rural Zimbabwe

Written By: Dr Pinimidzai Sithole, Engagement Manager at Pegasys


In 2012 UNICEF Zimbabwe and the Government of Zimbabwe, with funding from DFID UK and Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation (SDC), embarked on a rural Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) project entitled ‘Support to Improving Water, Sanitation and Hygiene in Rural Areas of Zimbabwe’ (Rural WASH project). The project targeted thirty-three (33) rural districts of five provinces of in Zimbabwe. In July 2013, UNICEF contracted Pegasys Strategy and Development and Development Data to conduct a baseline survey for the Rural WASH project. The survey covered over 12 000 households in 2013. Here are 8 key survey findings about access to safe and adequate WASH in rural Zimbabwe:

1. 1 in 5 people spend up to an hour a day fetching water

The average distance between the household and the main drinking water source was 1.07km. About a fifth (21.9%) of households took less than 15 minutes and a third (33.6%) took between 15 – 30 minutes for a round trip to collect drinking water. Another fifth (20.7%) took between 30-60minutes, while 23.3% took 60 minutes or more.

2. Fetching water is women’s work

80.8% of households reported that drinking water was fetched and transported by women aged 15 years and above while only10.9% by adult men above 15 years of age. Less than 5% of water was collected and transported by female or male children under the age of 15 years, 2.4% and 1.3% respectively. This has serious repercussions for the elderly, in fact elderly women (46.6%) experienced the most difficulties in collecting and transporting drinking water, followed by women in general (20.2%).

3. Fetching water is not a safe business

From the baseline survey shows that coverage of improved drinking water sources has remained static over the years for much of rural Zimbabwe, including in schools and communities. Gender disparities and imbalances are still prevalent with women and girls still responsible for collecting most household drinking water. In addition, reports of violence and conflict over access to water were cited in some districts, which the current drought may well have exacerbated. The baseline survey also identified other barriers to access, including quality of the water, distance, and cost.

4. Despite being women’s work, women have less access to safe drinking water than men

The A graphic representation below shows that women in rural Zimbabwe consistently have a lower access to water than men do. But also that as much as 1 in 3 people in rural areas do not have access to safe drinking water.

Proportion of district population without access to safe drinking water by gender.

Proportion of district population without access to safe drinking water by gender.

5. People have improved access to water, but still not in their houses

Sixty-five percent (65%) of the households reported accessing drinking water from improved sources. However, only 1.4% of households had water source inside their own dwelling, 1.9% had yard connections. The majority of respondents (48.1%) reported using borehole water sources, and 8% used water from protected dug wells. Sadly, thirty five percent of households reported using unimproved water sources: 15.4% relied on water from unprotected dug wells, 14.7% on surface water from either rivers or dams as the main drinking water sources, and the rest from other sources such as ox-drawn carts and tankers.

6. 2 out of 5 people are forced to “go” outside and this is a serious problem

”Improved sanitation facilities are when facilities hygienically separate human faeces from human contact. These could be achieved through many ways including flush or pour flush to piped sewer system; flush or Pour-flush to septic tank; flush or pour flush to pit latrine; Blair Ventilated Improved Pit Latrine (BVIP); upgradeable ventilated improved pit latrines; to compositing toilet or urine diversion  dry toilet (UDDT) and urinal for institutions and schools. Of the 12 416 households that were sampled, forty-two percent (42.2%) of the households reported having no access to standard sanitation facilities, and presumably practiced open defecation (OD). As is to be expected, the proportion of households without standard sanitation facilities was higher in the poorest two quintiles (19.8%) than in the wealthiest two quintiles (12.5%). Therefore wealthier households were more likely to have constructed a latrine on their own without subsidies than poorer households who rely heavily on state subsidies to construct latrines. Of   the 30.1% households that reported having constructed a sanitation facility on their own without subsidies, 18.5% were in the upper two quintiles while only 6% were in the lower 2 quintiles. It is interesting to note that even in the wealthiest households in these villages, some people are without standard sanitation facilities.

7.  When there aren’t sanitation facilities, women are unsafe

On average, household members took about 6 minutes to get to their usual defecation areas, where an average of four (4) and nine (9) minutes for households with and without own household sanitation facilities respectively. This is important owing to the potential risk for violence against women, and the challenges facing old people and disabled people whose mobility is limited. This has implications especially on girls and women who can be easily vulnerable in the dark.

8. Access to adequate sanitation is an issue for poor women

Proportion of district population without access to adequate sanitation by gender.

Proportion of district population without access to adequate sanitation by gender.

From the above analyses, the numbers of people practicing open defecation is high, and has remained so over the years. Low sanitation coverage rates were recorded across all project districts. Poorest households constituted the bulk of those without access to own sanitation facilities while wealthiest households were more likely to have used own resources to finance latrine construction. From the fore-going, it would seem poor households are stripped of their dignity when it comes to sanitation, particularly women.

Way forward and the SDGs – WASH and dignity for the poor

It is welcomed that the SDGs promise, by 2030, to “achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all”. Target two of the goal (Goal Six of the SDGs) expects to achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all, and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations. Although ending open defecation is a necessary step, it is not sufficient to achieve improvements in health (see Potter, 2015[1]). It does not mean that people have a minimum facility to protect health. Paying special attention to the needs of women and girls regarding access to water and sanitation is driven by a mixture of social and biological factors. Social because women and girls are tasked with ensuring access to water and have to walk long distances to fetch it as illustrated by the WASH baseline survey results. Poor water services delivery continues to impact most negatively on women and girl children in Zimbabwe. Biologically, both men and women need sanitary facilities, however; for women and girl children this need is exacerbated during menstruation. Given the huge deficit in access to WASH, attaining and going beyond the SGD goals will go a long way in restoring dignity to more than 40% without access to adequate WASH facilities in Zimbabwe and in addressing the rights and opportunities of women and girl children.


[1] Potter, A. 2015 Higher levels of service are needed to reduce death and disease. http://www.ircwash.org/blog/higher-levels-of-service

Sustainable Development Goals

Sustainable Development Goals

Twitter: @psithole #WaterandSanitation #Zimbabwe

Date: 07 April 2016

Written by Admin on 07 April 2016