Binga, a district in north-west Zimbabwe, is one of the poorest and most drought-prone regions in the country. For many people living there, access to clean and safe water is a daily challenge. But for those with disabilities, the situation is even more dire.
Meet Catherine and Tuesday Mwembe, a brother and sister who both have physical disabilities that limit their mobility.
Catherine has a spinal cord injury that affects her lower limbs, while Tuesday has a congenital condition that caused his legs to be deformed.
The sister walks with a limp and Tuesday usually crawls using his hands when he is not in his dilapidated wheelchair which has seen its better days.
They live in an antiquated house, part of a compound that houses PWDs in the area.
The compound does not have running water or electricity. The closest water collection point is 500 meters away at a Roman Catholic-run facility.
On days that the church is out of the precious liquid, the family, together with others, have to walk about two kilometres to get water.
The borehole is often crowded and sometimes runs dry, forcing them to wait for hours or walk even further to another source.
Catherine and Tuesday cannot walk that distance by themselves. They rely on a wheelchair that Tuesday received from a charity organization a few years ago.
They are compelled to resort to a remarkable yet heart-wrenching solution: sending their children, with the brother’s wheelchair, to fetch water from the sole available water point.
Binga, like many parts of rural Zimbabwe, grapples with a severe water scarcity problem. This scarcity is acutely felt by individuals with disabilities, like Catherine and Tuesday, who find themselves disproportionately affected.
The basic act of collecting water, a task that most people take for granted, is a daily ordeal for them, given the challenging terrain and the inadequacy of accessible water sources.
They have no choice but to send their children to fetch water using a wheelchair. The children take turns pushing the wheelchair, which can carry up to four jerry cans of water at a time.
They make several trips a day.
“It’s very hard for us,” says Catherine “We feel like we are a burden to our children. They have to work so hard to get water for us. We wish we could do it ourselves.”
Tuesday agrees. “We are grateful for the wheelchair, but it’s not enough. We need more support and assistance. We need better access to water and sanitation. We need more opportunities and inclusion.”
Catherine and Tuesday are not alone. According to the 2012 census, there are about 348,861 people with disabilities in Zimbabwe, half of whom are children. Many of them face discrimination, stigma, and exclusion from society.
They also face multiple challenges in accessing basic services such as health, education, and water. Too often, people with disabilities in Binga experience social suffering due to water scarcity, which affects their health, livelihoods, and dignity.
They teamed up with Raphael Mudenda (43), another person with a disability who lives nearby, to buy some chicks and feed them with the money they receive from the Emergency Social Cash Transfer (ESCT).
The ESCT is a programme that was implemented by UNICEF and the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare and World Vision with financial support from the Government of Germany through the KfW Development Bank.
It provides US$12 a month to vulnerable households in Binga and other districts.
“We started the chicken project after realising that we could save some money from the US$12 we were getting. We started with 10 chicks ” said Mwembe.
However, the chicken project also requires water, which is scarce and expensive in Binga.
“We need water to clean the chicken coop, to mix the feed, and to give the chickens to drink. Without water, our chickens will die or get sick. We are struggling to sustain the business,” said Mudenda.
The ESCT programme is also coming to an end soon, as it was designed as a short-term intervention to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 and other shocks.
The beneficiaries are hoping that the Government Harmonised Social Cash Transfer Programme (HSCTP), which is a long-term social protection scheme that targets poor and labour-constrained households, will take over and continue to support them.
Mudenda said he was happy that the HSCTP will be taking up the slack from the ESCT because: “It is next to impossible to get by without the regular cash injection.”
The HSCTP is expected to reach more than 500,000 households across Zimbabwe by 2025, with funding from various donors and partners. It aims to reduce poverty, enhance food security, improve health and education outcomes, and promote social inclusion for people with disabilities and other vulnerable groups.
For the Mwembe siblings, the hope is that the government and other stakeholders will address the water crisis in Binga and improve the accessibility and quality of services for people with disabilities.
“We want to live with dignity and respect. We want to have access to water, health care, education, and employment opportunities. We want to contribute to our community and our country. We are not asking for much, just our basic human rights,” said Catherine.
They hope that one day they will be treated with respect and dignity by everyone.
“We want to live a normal life like everyone else,” said Tendai. “We want to have access to water and other basic needs. We want to have opportunities and choices. We want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.”