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Every country in Africa suffers one environmental ill or another. Wind erosion aggravated by deforestation, droughts and overgrazing blows away the fertile top soils of the grasslands.

Wisdom Mdzungairi

Other environmental challenges include floods, untreated sewage, bush fires, air pollution and irresponsible urban councils’ waste disposal.

There is hardly a city in Africa, and in particular Zimbabwe, where waste is appropriately disposed of, and where water and electricity supply are dependable.

Resultantly, our urban areas are choking under the weight of over-crowdedness amidst dilapidated infrastructure that is characterised by constant service failure.

The water and sewer systems in towns are almost collapsing, thus putting millions of souls in danger of consuming contaminated water that is if they have not done that already.

Conversely, UN Habitat says the quality and quantity of water supplied in towns and cities has plummeted in recent years and has assumed crisis proportions owing to the difficult economic situation and other challenges faced by Zimbabwe, and other nations.

The report adds that Africa is the fastest urbanising continent globally with an estimated growth rate of 3,4%. Already, more than 40% of Africa’s people are urbanised and it is projected that 60% of all Africans will be living in urban areas by 2050.

Africa’s urban population will increase from an estimated
413 million in 2010 to a projected 1,23 billion by 2050.

On the basis of these projections, African urban areas and services will need to accommodate a tripling of the current number of urban inhabitants by 2050.

Indeed, the situation is desperate and dire, as is evidenced by the poor quality of delivered water, severe water rationing and the outbreak of water-borne diseases across the country.

Clean water is a human right and not necessarily a privilege as many would want us to believe. Yes, the situation demands and dictates that solutions be tendered as a matter of urgency. Unfortunately, the water reticulation system across all major cities and towns in the country have collapsed under the “watchful” eye of Local Government minister Ignatius Chombo over a long period of time.

It is therefore hoped that Environment, Water and Climate minister Saviour Kasukuwere under whose purview the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (Zinwa) falls, will ramp up to address the problems.

Kasukuwere, who last week slipped out to Russia presumably to seek partnerships over the water problems, must know that Russia is not a silver bullet that will solve all of our urban water problems.

But, its ideas and approaches like many others will require testing on the ground and in the sewers and pipes of our cities.

Some will work well and some will be rejected. Some will be cost effective and some will be too expensive. Because Russia’s success shows that it built systems incrementally and with broad consultation from stakeholders, their approach is by nature pragmatic.

The flexibility of the options proposed, and its adaptability to a range of current and future conditions, will be a powerful tool to provide clean, safe water not only to Zimbabwe, but many African communities.

Empirical evidence has shown that local environmental problems have regional and global consequences as manifest in the global climate change that is increasingly making itself felt.

Yet, ecological conscious and aware municipalities should be proactive rather than reactive to the environmental problems they generate over time and space.

No doubt, the environmental challenges of sustainable development and globalisation require concerted action. There can be no enduring development unless there is sustainable urbanisation.

There can also be no socio-economic development and sustainability in any situation where a majority of the urban population lives in poverty levels as in Zimbabwe.

There should be no water shortage anywhere in the country because there is enough rainfall and groundwater to serve the needs of Zimbabwe well into the future, if there is proper management.

Kasukuwere must make Zinwa work, not as a political tool, but for the people. Sadly, Zinwa — itself a political animal — has no effective policy of collection, storage and distribution of water.

Everything is done haphazardly —what a mess! Of all the catchment areas — none of them is optimally managed.

The result of all of this is that even without a drought; millions of Zimbabweans do not have access to piped water, but rely on unprotected wells across all major cities and towns. Most of these persons are among the poorest of our population.

It is clear in this case that Zimbabwe’s perennial water shortage is a man-made disaster because of the lack of an implemented water policy, inadequate provisions for catchment of rainfall and despairingly inadequate storage facilities such as dams.

Ancient and decrepit water infrastructure has resulted in over half the water being lost due to leaking pipes especially in the capital Harare.

There is need to “re-imagine the African city” by creating new paradigms for modern African urbanism.

As is abundantly clear, there has been no systematic plan for the catchment and storage of rainfall. No new dams have been built to supply Harare, Bulawayo, Gweru, Masvingo, Mutare, Beitbridge, Chirundu or Plumtree in over 50 years.

Kunzvi, Tokwe-Mukosi and Gwayi dams have all remained pipe dreams while Matabeleland Zambezi Water Project has been on the drawing board since 1910.

Hence, the lack of a water policy and/or its implementation has converted a natural annually occurring climate action into a catastrophe.

It must be borne in mind, however, that droughts are natural acts, but, the water shortages in our major urban settlements, are acts of man and their failure to act.

Chombo’s ministry and Zinwa’s ineptitude in this case are beyond dispute and to an extent the people for tolerating the failures.
Could it be far-fetched that governments over the last 34 years are guilty of negligence?

This qualifies as a man-made disaster! Can we afford to continue playing Russian roulette with the people?

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