If you were standing on the streets of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe Saturday evening, you might have heard a sudden, mysterious sound, coming from all directions. That would have been the sound of thousands of toilets harmoniously flushing in an effort to clear out blockages in the sewer system.

The Bulawayo City Council called for residents to unite in the simultaneous flush after going without water for 72 hours. The city has implemented a strict conservation program designed to make drought-ravaged supply dams last until the rainy season starts in November. After such long periods without running water, the sewer system can become so clogged that the mass flushing is needed to clear it out.

In fact, while the city-wide toilet flush might sound like a joke, the situation in Bulawayo is becoming more and more serious. Residents say they’re keeping water in large drums to survive the water outages, but they fear disease outbreaks.

A plan is underway to bring water to the city from the Zambezi River with a pipeline partly funded by China, but the project won’t be complete until 2014 at the earliest.  Meanwhile, in just the coming weeks, city officials are warning they may have to extend the water rationing periods to 92 hours at a stretch.

Drought has been a serious problem in Zimbabwe this year, reminding some of a disastrous dry period in 1992. The nation’s cabinet has formed a committee to address the issue and attempt to ensure access to food.

Recently, the government announced a $2 million program to provide feed to keep cattle in the Matabeleland South area from starving after there was too little grain to keep grazing pastures growing. The international community has also provided aid to the nation to support food security. The World Food Program has said that close to 1.7 million Zimbabweans are in urgent need of food aid.

Featured image credit: 80n/Flickr