Zimbabwe's Access to Water Is in Peril
The 2 million residents of Harare, Zimbabwe's capital, and its surrounding areas found themselves without water on Monday and Tuesday when the authorities abruptly shut down the city's main water treatment plant, raising fears of cholera outbreaks and other water borne diseases, as the AP reported.
Zimbabwe's crumbling economy has left the local government without enough money to import the necessary water treatment chemicals to allow the water to run. The Harare City Council deputy mayor Enock Mupamawonde told reporters that the local authority required 40 million Zimbabwe dollars a month ($2.7 million) for water chemicals — well short of the 15 million Zimbabwe dollars it collected in monthly revenue, as Reuters reported.
He said the money shortage meant the council had to close its Morton Jaffray treatment plant outside of Harare.
"It (the shutdown) is due to the non availability of foreign currency...it is devastating to say the least," Mupamawonde told reporters as he urged President Emmerson Mnangagwa's government to declare the water crisis a national disaster, according to Reuters.
He also told reporters that officials were working to secure a week's supply of chemicals from Bulawayo, the country's second-biggest city, to resume operation and they hoped to get water running in homes by late Tuesday, according to CNN.
The Morton Jaffray treatment plant did resume pumping water yesterday, which brought some relief to residents, as Reuters reported.
"The secured quantities will only last seven days during which period other quantities will be secured. We are currently engaging all stakeholders, including the government to find a lasting solution to the water crisis," said Mupamaonde on Tuesday, as CNN reported.
Zimbabweans have endured a harsh drought this year after an abnormal El Niño season. Water levels in the country's polluted reservoirs have dropped precipitously, leaving cities and towns without the ability to provide water to their residents. Earlier this summer, the country's two largest cities started rationing water to their residents, allowing some people to have running water only once a week, as EcoWatch reported.
"The toilets at school are just too filthy, people continue using them yet there is no water," said Dylan Kaitano, a 12-year-old waiting in line at wells, to the AP. "I didn't go to school today because I have to be here."
Debris such as plastic bottles, tires and algae floated in the shallow waters at the Chivero reservoir, the city's main water supply. The water, which looks green, also releases a choking, foul smell, according to the AP.
The water shortages have made the quality of life plummet in Harare, which now frequently has cases of typhoid triggered by water shortages and broken sewers. Many residents have had to fetch water from unsafe wells and defecate outdoors, according to the AP.
Tambudzai Murwa, a Harare resident, told CNN she dug a well to meet her needs since the water rationing started.
"We hardly have water in our taps," she said. "We pray daily that the cholera outbreak does not recur. A few boreholes were dug, but you have to queue for long to get water, yet we have other things that we have to queue for in our lives."
Twenty-six people died last year in a cholera outbreak, prompting President Emmerson Mnangagwa to express dismay that Zimbabweans were perishing from a "medieval" disease, according to the AP.
"Nothing is working in this country, how do we survive?" Hatineyi Kamwanda, another Harare resident said to the AP, referring to the country's shortages of medicine, food and fuel, in addition to water. "We can't even use the toilets, the children are not going to school because of this and now we fear cholera is going to hit us again. The president should treat us as human beings, we voted for him."
The water was turned back on near midnight Tuesday evening, but it is just a buffer period while the city scrambles to come up with the necessary money to pay for water purifying chemicals, according to Reuters.
"We are taking this as a buffer period to work around what happens next," said Mupamawonde at a media briefing, as Reuters reported. He said that some of the city's chemical supplies were stuck at the border with South Africa in the south, awaiting payment and clearance.
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Where Does the Deficiency Begin?<p>Nobody knows exactly how much vitamin D a person actually needs. The question of when a deficiency starts is correspondingly controversial. However, vitamin D is becoming increasingly popular.Not only is the pseudo-scientific literature on the "sun vitamin" experiencing an upswing, but the number of published studies has also increased enormously in recent years. For example, in 2019 <a href="https://academic.oup.com/edrv/article/40/4/1109/5126915" target="_blank">a study found that</a> Vitamin D is responsible for keeping the skeleton functional and is associated with cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and various types of cancer. <br></p>
An All-Rounder<p>Vitamin D levels in the body rise and fall according to sun exposure. If sufficient UV rays reach the skin, the body is able to produce the vitamin itself. However, the human body only derives an estimated 10 to 20 percent of its daily requirement from food.</p><p>The vitamin D that we synthesize from sunlight or food is not biologically active at first. Before the kidneys can produce the biologically active form of the vitamin, known as calcitriol, and release it into the blood, some metabolic processes must take place beforehand.</p><p>In addition, many organs have receptors to which the precursor of calcitriol binds. Further, this substance is also present in blood.</p><p>From this precursor, the organs then produce calcitriol themselves, which the body then uses for countless other processes in the body. This form of vitamin D thus regulates insulin secretion, inhibits tumor growth, and promotes the formation of red blood cells as well as the survival and activity of macrophages, which are important for the <a href="https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/5/7/2502/htm" target="_blank">immune system.</a></p>
Low Vitamin D, Severe COVID-19 Disease?<p>A research study carried out <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352364620300067?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">at the University of Hohenheim</a> has now established a link between vitamin D deficiency, certain previous diseases, and severe cases of COVID-19.</p><p>According to the study, "there is a lot of evidence that several non-communicable diseases (high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, metabolic syndrome) are associated with low vitamin D plasma levels. These comorbidities, together with the often accompanying vitamin D deficiency, increase the risk of severe COVID-19 events."</p><p>"This statement is completely correct," said Martin Fassnacht, head of endocrinology at the University Hospital of Würzburg. However, he qualifies that it is a pure association, "i.e. a mere observation that these events occur together.</p><p>Dr. Fassnacht is very critical of the hype surrounding vitamin D, but not because he denies the vitamin serves important functions. However, studies on humans have not been able to show that vitamin D has the healing powers many often propagate.</p><p>Fassnacht says, "If you take a closer look, the hopes that the administration of vitamin D has a healing effect have not been confirmed so far."</p>
Association Versus Intervention Studies<p>Many studies on the vitamin are association or observational studies. "By definition, these studies cannot prove the causal relationship, but only point to mere correlations," said Fassnacht. The physician tries to illustrate this with an example:</p><p>"Imagine two groups of 80-year-olds. One group is spry, active and does sports. If you compare them with another group living in nursing homes, the difference in vitamin D levels will be dramatic. Life expectancy would also be extremely different."</p><p>But to try to explain the difference in fitness by vitamin D status alone is far too simplistic. "Vitamin D levels are a good measure of how sick someone is. But not more," says Fassnacht. </p><p>According to Fassnacht, none of the intervention studies carried out to date -- that specifically examined the effect of vitamin D on various diseases -- has been able to confirm the previous association and laboratory studies or the presumed positive effect of vitamin D.</p>
Further Research Is Needed<p>"If a coronavirus infection is suspected, it is therefore absolutely necessary to check the vitamin D status and quickly correct any possible deficit," said the recommendation of the paper published by the University of Hohenheim.</p><p>"Studies are underway to see whether vitamin D helps in COVID-19 infection, but I personally do not believe that this is really the case," says endocrinologist Fassnacht. Nevertheless, he says it is of course useful to carry out these studies.<br></p><p>"I don't want to rule out that there are actually subgroups of people who benefit from an additional vitamin D dose," he says. After all, this has been proven to be the case with a severe deficit.</p><p>In view of the study situation, Fassnacht does not think much of preventive, nationwide vitamin D substitutes. "My belief that the vitamin helps somewhere is very low. But, of course, I can be wrong."</p>
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