Tinashe Ruvengo (30) travels 10 kilometres everyday on a donkey-drawn cart to fetch water at the borehole nearest to his homestead in Orr Hood Range.
“We have to use donkeys and scotch carts to fetch water,” he said. “We cannot use wheelbarrows because of the distance.”
Because boreholes providing safe drinking water are few and far between, villagers in dry districts such as Mwenezi in Masvingo often travel up to 10km in search of the precious liquid.
At independence in 1980 and late into the 1990s, Zimbabwe had one of the best infrastructures and water resources management systems in sub-Saharan Africa.
The demand for water for domestic and industrial use was largely met and new water sources set up as rural and urban populations grew.
Since 2000, however, there has been little investment in new water and waste water treatment plants and related facilities in the country.
The government and local authorities are battling to meet demand as the ageing equipment fails to cope with a growing population.
The situation is made worse by leaks and illegal connections.
The Harare municipality says up to 60% of treated water is lost through burst pipes in the distribution line.
Major towns and cities in Zimbabwe are located upstream of their drinking water sources leading to huge pollution loads and high water treatment costs.
Harare, for example, needs up to nine chemicals to treat its water, putting a further strain on the burdened municipality.
Statistics recently released by United Nations International Children Educational Fund (Unicef) indicate that 98% of those without safe drinking water sources are in rural areas and have to walk longer distances in search of the precious liquid.
The report also estimates that 42% of the rural population still defecates in open places and that $90 million is needed for sanitation hardware.
To take the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) to the levels of the late 1990s, Unicef said over $900 million is required.
This leaves the government with a mountain of a task to meet the Millennium Development Goals on health by the year 2015.
Chief’s Council president Chief Fortune Charumbira bemoaned the unavailability of WASH facilities in the rural areas.
“The government has not been doing enough in the maintenance of boreholes and the rate of their supply in needy areas has slow in recent years,” he said.
“Part of the infrastructure was ravaged by cyclones in early 2000 and to date no repair work has been done owing to small budgets and the economic embargo illegally imposed on the country by Western nations,” he added.
Charumbira said pit latrines were now beyond the reach of many who resorted to relieving themselves in the open. “In some parts of the country people are still practicing open defecation,” he said.
The District Development Fund (DDF) which has been the pillar of rural development was not spared by the economic recession. Water Resources Development and Management minister Sipepa Nkomo said government was crafting a National Water Plan (NWP) to bring together various government ministries and agencies that deal with water.
“It is against this background that government has undertaken to develop Zimbabwe’s first ever multi-sectoral national water policy to tackle the numerous challenges facing the water and sanitation sector,” he said.
He said the policy will be ready by year-end. Government set aside about $90 million to rehabilitate boreholes and other water facilities countrywide in the 2011 budget, even though the funds fall far short of the required amount.
To alleviate the shortage of clean water, the International Relief and Development (IRD) is teaching communities to harvest rain water.
Through its Peri-urban Rooftop Rainwater Harvesting (PROOF) programme, IRD has installed rainwater harvesting systems for 2 653 households and eight schools, benefiting 26 321 people since 2009.
The programme has transformed lives in the high density suburbs of Budiriro, Mabvuku, Tafara, Mbare, Glen View, Chitungwiza, Mutare Urban and rural Manicaland, including schools in these areas.
The Institute of Water and Sanitation has trained more than 300 people who work at various waterworks countrywide on water handling, complementing boreholes drilled by other organisations in some urban centres.
About $300 000 was unveiled by Unicef for the project.