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Comment: Wake up, smell the coffee

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Reports that solutions to the water woes bedevilling Harare and its catchment towns are elusive are worrisome, in the sense that they are coming at a time everybody is expecting the local authority to take corrective measures soon rather than later.

But, as it emerged Harare City Council water department director Chris Zvobgo told a council meeting on Thursday the former Sunshine City is in a serious water crisis that needs urgent attention.

According to Zvobgo, rectifying the water crisis in Harare could take up to three or more years. “We are producing 620 megalitres against demand of 1 400 megalitres at this time of the year.

From the 620 megalitres, we lose 200 to 300 megalitres and what remains is supposed to be shared among 4 million people within Greater Harare – it’s difficult,” Zvobgo said last Thursday.

Council also blames Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (Zesa) power interruptions, and believes Kunzvi Dam could be a panacea to Harare’s water problems in the long term.

Good plan, but, one wonders what urgent attention council is referring to because as far as residents are aware, Harare has been experiencing persistent water shortages for some time now.

And each time, council has blamed leakages and power blackouts as the major reasons for the shortage.

Most suburbs in Harare and satellite towns have gone for months without water, leaving residents scavenging for the precious liquid from unprotected wells.

Harare supplies potable water to more than 4 million residents in the capital, Norton, Ruwa and Chitungwiza, Epworth and Hatcliffe.

Long queues are the order of day in almost all high-density suburbs.

And, Harare mayor Muchadeyi Masunda would want residents to believe the water crisis is a result of massive pipe leakages, power interruptions, demand that has outstripped supply and a crippling cash squeeze to repair ageing infrastructure with residents and government owing the cash-strapped council a combined $170 million.

Curiously, Harare has expressed its desire to repossess the Harare Thermal Power Station from Zesa.

The country’s power utility, already saddled with bad debts, poor management, persistent load-shedding and a host of other troubles, has increased electricity tariffs for the restive consumers, and handing over the thermal power station to council means tariffs will be further increased.

What guarantee is there that Masunda’s foot soldiers will not burden the already suffering public with tariff increases?

The capital which used to be the country’s Sunshine City is now a pale shadow of its former self – content with offering poor service. While one may argue the water crisis in Harare is a result of a legacy for poor service delivery over decades, Masunda and his team can do better, rather than moan over spilt milk.

Residents deserve better service, and not rhetoric.

While service delivery is disintegrating at an alarming rate, the city fathers are at each others’ throat fighting for a share in tenders within council, and one wonders, whose interests any of them is serving.

While it might be a good idea for Harare to control the old thermal power station in an effort to easy erratic power outages, at this rate load-shedding can only worsen.

It seems Harare city fathers have no plan or solution to the water crisis, yet the deteriorating water situation in the capital poses a real danger to people’s health.

In 2008, as the deterioration in the water situation in Harare and other urban centres took its toll, Zimbabwe suffered the worst cholera outbreak in its history that claimed the lives of more than 4 000 people.

But, increased investment from Unicef through the support of donors has greatly contributed to positive developments in the water sector.

One wonders why Harare has not upped its game and conducted repairs of water and sanitation infrastructure such as water treatment plants and distribution network, boreholes, sewerage systems and wastewater treatment plants.

The city fathers should wake up and smell the coffee, people deserve better service for voting them!

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