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Residents of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, are engaging in a community-wide flushing of toilets today.
Is it a symbolic washing away of waste? A sign of protest? A commode "flash mob?"
None of the above.
After months of severe water shortages, the city's authorities have imposed 72 hours of water rationing a week. Two of Bulawayo's five supply dams have dried up because of the drought, according to the online version of Africa Review. So, when water is restored to the city's 1 million residents today, the city council has asked everyone to pitch in for the "Big Flush," at 7:30 p.m. local time.
The AP explains that synchronized flushing will clear waste that has been accumulating in the city's sanitary facilities during the past three days of water rationing.
According to city council spokesperson Nesisa Mpofu, just because water is being restored fully to residents for now does not mean that everything is OK.
"Water rationing may be extended to 92-hour periods. The situation is very serious," she says. In fact, there is the risk that two more dams could dry up before the rainy season begins in November.
While the idea of a Big Flush might seem like a good way to unify a population around a problem, the drought and the need to flush the sewage lines is indicative of a larger issue. Zimbabwe has been plagued with severe droughts in the past and the shortages have contributed to outbreaks of cholera and typhoid — the worst of which occurred in the capital, Harare, in 2010 when more than 4,000 people died.
Theoretically, help is on the way. After years of stalling, there is now a plan underway to build a pipeline that draws water from the Zambezi River. Newzimbabwe.com reports that China committed $2.2 million to the project, but it is not expected to be complete until 2014 at the earliest.
In the meantime, the people of Bulaweyo will have to find ways to be resourceful in using their water sparingly — and hope that some good comes out of the Big Flush.