Human Rights Downside Of Zimbabwe's Pandemic Lockdown

21 Jan 2021 by The Water Diplomat
HARARE, Zimbabwe

Human rights groups have called on the Zimbabwean government to ensure access to clean water amid tightening COVID-19 lockdown restrictions across the country.

The Zimbabwe Human rights NGO Forum (HR Forum) has expressed concern that the latest national lockdown, implemented 5 January, could further exacerbate “a lack of basic amenities such as water and health services”, and calls on the government to provide vulnerable communities with “food aid packages, allowances, and grants in addition to potable water”.

Severe drought in recent years and a decrepit water infrastructure as well as widespread corruption have led to critical restrictions in access to clean water across the country.

The water crisis is causing extensive and deadly outbreaks of diarrhoea, and contributing to the further spread of the coronavirus as people converge on water boreholes. Compliance with basic hygiene guidelines is also impossible in the absence of clean water.

While broadly supportive of the lockdown, the HR Forum raises serious concerns “with the likely possibility of human rights abuses being perpetrated by State security forces” in its enforcement. It cited experiences from last year’s lockdown, which included “incidents of abductions, assaults and torture, arbitrary arrests, and attacks against journalists (as well as) the use of disproportionate force against civilians and cases of solicited bribes”.

This comes as the government reintroduces a dusk-to-dawn curfew and implements bans on traditional funerals believed to be increasing the spread of the virus, which has spiked recently as thousands of Zimbabweans returned home from South Africa for Christmas. The authorities believe this brought a new, more infectious, South African variant of the virus into the country.