The plight of a shack dweller

02 February 2018 Author   Kaula Nhongo
It is around 10 in the morning and Martha Hango (35) is sitting in her corrugated iron shack surrounded by relatives and friends who have come to see how she is doing after a suspected Hepatitis E attack.
Her residence is located just near a riverbed which most people use to relieve themselves as there are no toilet facilities in the area except for a few that individuals have constructed on their own homesteads.
 As one draws closer to her residence, the overwhelming, overpowering, drowning stench of faeces from the nearby riverbed gives welcome. This smell has become a part of Hango’s everyday life.
 According to Hango, the smell is worse during the day when the sun is hot.
Sitting on her lap is her daughter, a toddler who looks so tiny that one might mistake the child to be barely out of infancy.
For the past six years, the mother of one has been living in the filth of Havana after moving to the city from the north in search of greener pastures.
“I moved here to work, but after getting to Windhoek I could not find cheap accommodation so I decided to reside here illegally. At least I have a roof over my head even though I know that we are not allowed to be living here,” Hango said.
Windhoek’s informal sector has been grappling with a Hepatitis E outbreak since December which has claimed two lives while over 490 suspected cases have been recorded so far.
Hango found her way to the hospital after she noticed traces of yellow in her eyes and in her urine.
It has been two weeks since she went to the hospital, but the single mother says she still feels weak and has not been able to go to work where she is employed as a domestic worker in the middle income suburb of Dorado Park.
“I was feeling very weak and had severe headaches, so I decided to go to the clinic where they referred me to the hospital,” she said.
At the hospital, Hango was just given an injection and a bunch of tablets and told to return home.
“I was feeling very sick, but they refused to admit me. They told me to go home and take the pills,” she lamented.
Hepatitis E is a virus that can infect the liver. Unlike other forms of hepatitis, the Hepatitis E virus usually doesn't lead to long-term illness or serious liver damage.
Most people get well within a few months.
People usually get Hepatitis E by drinking water or eating food that's been contaminated by faeces (stool) from someone infected with the virus.
People can also get Hepatitis E from contact with an animal, through eating undercooked meat or touching an infected pig.
The most affected areas include Havana, Goreangab Dam, Hakahana, Greenwell Matongo and Ombili.
According to the Minister of Health and Social Services, Dr Bernard Haufiku, poor sanitation is fuelling disease outbreaks in the informal settlements where 68 percent still practice open defecation.
The situation is made worse by the fact that about 2 percent of the people in informal settlements collect water from unsafe water sources which sometimes include the riverbeds that they are using as toilets.
In Hango’s case, it might be any one of the two because there are no water points in her area.
What makes her situation worse is that the City of Windhoek does not issue water cards to people who do not have Erf numbers so she has to rely on friends to get water.
At times, when her friends also do not have water, she has to get water from the streams in the area which are suspected to be contaminated with sewerage water.
“There are no toilets in this area, there is too much dirt everywhere and no one is cleaning it. People just dump their rubbish everywhere because they have nowhere to put it. The city does not collect refuse in this part of town,” she said.
According to Haufiku, investigations on the cause of the outbreak have revealed that the containers that people use to fetch water contain faecal particles.
The minister complained that a lack of sanitation facilities in the affected areas has been the biggest problem which in turn is hampering efforts to contain the outbreak.
This is made evident by the pools of sewerage water seen on the side of the main road driving into Havana.
Those who live in the area do not seem bothered by the situation as some have even gone to the extent of setting up their fruit and vegetable stalls right next to those pools.
Hango said that the whole location uses only one water point after the other one broke down a few years back.
“The water points are not that sufficient because you find long queues where you sometimes have to wait for hours just to get water,” she said.
City of Windhoek officials complain that despite providing toilets, locals in the area vandalise and neglect them that the city opts to lock them instead.
Those who have constructed individual ‘Blair-toilets’ (pit latrines) complain that they do not receive any assistance once the toilets are full.
The CoW has, however, said it has a plan in place to address the lack of sanitation facilities including the rehabilitation of old toilets that have not been in use because the septic tanks were full.
So far, the Ministry of Health and Social Services has assessed over 2,500 households.
Since the outbreak, the ministry has been distributing disinfectant soap and bacteria-killing water tablets in the affected areas.
They give about 10 tablets per household which residents complain is not enough because you put one tablet in every five litre bottle.
 According to a report by the Shack Dwellers Federation of Namibia (SDFN) in 2016, up to 25 percent of Namibia’s over 2 million people live in informal settlements and 33 percent of households profiled use open air toilets, while half of the informal settlements have no toilets.
The report profiled 13 informal settlements in the country.
Hango wishes that her situation would change, but for now there is really nothing that she can do for herself and her child.
6628 : Resident relieving herself in the river
6631 : Emmanuel Atutire puling a trolley with water buckets coming from the water points. He walks about 2km to get to the water point.
6626 : One of the toilets that individuals build for themselves.


The Windhoek Observer is an English-language weekly newspaper, published in Namibia by Paragon Investment Holding. It is the country's oldest and largest circulating weekly.

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