Bulawayo’s water crisis: No easy solution to a decades old problem

BULAWAYO‘S biggest manufacturing company United Refineries Limited (URL), last week suspended operations and sent employees home because it could not continue with operations due to the acute water shortages which have dogged the country’s second capital.

by RICHARD MUPONDE

Perennial water shortages are among the reasons for Bulawayo’s gradual loss of its status as Zimbabwe’s industrial hub.

In a statement announcing the development, URL said its plant had not received enough water for one week.

“We regret to inform our customers, suppliers and stakeholders that we had limited water supplies to our factory for the last seven days and the situation has not improved,” the company said.

“As a result, we have had to temporarily suspend our factory operations as we await the situation to normalise. We continue to engage Bulawayo City Council with regards to returning the situation to normalcy. We are aware this is happening as we prepare for the festive season stocking programmes and promotions,” it noted.

In the past decade, many firms have relocated to Harare and other cities where there is regular supply of water, with industrial complexes being turned into houses of prayer by a number of churches which are mushrooming in the city faster than industries are opening.

The water situation has reached unprecedented levels as residents are now going for weeks without a drop of water, a situation which has also hit companies, most of which rely on water for their operations. A number of solutions should be found to save the city from total collapse and losing lives after typhoid last week resurfaced in the city.

A number of solutions have been proffered by residents and civic society to end the perennial water problems and save the city from total collapse.

In April 2020, a social movement, Better Bulawayo Initiative partnered with Matabeleland Institute for Human Rights to conduct an online Ideas café to gather the views of residents on alleviating the water crisis.

The café was attended by the Bulawayo City Council Future Water Supplies Committee chair councillor Sikhululekile Moyo.

A number of solutions were proffered by residents which include lobbying the government to devolve bulk water rights to Bulawayo City Council (BCC) so that the council can have the power to construct its own dams without seeking approval from government or Zinwa. Some are listed below:

 Attending to water leakages as some of them have been there for a long time and are now a perennial feature.

 The council may consider partnering with NUST to develop an application that will be used for identifying, locating and tracking water leakages.

 Expansion of water extraction at Nyamandlovu Aquifer.

 Council to consider water harvesting techniques that are aimed at harnessing runoff water which is lost during the rainy season mainly due to tarmac surfaces.

 This may also entail having bulk reservoirs or storage dams at the edge of the city where runoff water will be diverted into.

 There is need for a joint campaign effort (between BCC and residents) and this campaign effort should consider lessons from other arid areas that have managed to solve their water crises like Egypt, Botswana and Cape Town.

 Resuscitation, deepening and drilling of more boreholes in Bulawayo. These boreholes can be solar powered.

 Promoting reuse of water.

 Utilising underground water that flows under the city’s CBD buildings such as at Nssa building and main Edgars building — explore if there is an underground river.

 Campaign and lobby for the revival of the Matabeleland-Zambezi Water Project.

 Scooping of current supply dams during the dry season and ensuring that siltation in the catchment areas is managed.

 Council should consider banning the 10-litre toilet cisterns and promote the use of the 4-litre or 5-litre high pressure ones which are used in hotels.

 Council needs to ban the large water taps and propose smaller water taps that don’t discharge large sums of water at a given time.

 Consider construction of supply dams on Gwayi and Shangani rivers.

 Consider exploring for more aquifers around the City of Bulawayo including in Matobo district.

 Council should consider legal and human rights ways of compelling people to pay their water bills.

 Enkwalini water needs to be harvested and sold for commercial purposes.

 Khami Dam water should not be recycled for domestic use but can be used for commercial, industrial and agricultural purposes. The money being proposed for use to recycle Khami Dam water for domestic use could be used to construct new dams. Moreover, if Khami water is sold for industrial, commercial and agricultural use, it can generate money that will help towards the construction of a new dam.

However, some of the issues raised have been attended to by the government, Zinwa and BCC such as drawing water from boreholes at Epping Forest in Nyamandlovu to feed into the main water supply of the city.

Treasury availed $205 million to help improve the water situation in Bulawayo with part of the funds earmarked for the emergency drilling, rehabilitation and equipping for boreholes at Epping Forest.

Zinwa has indicated that it will start providing borehole water drawn from Epping Forest to Bulawayo residents this month.

The local authority has also come up with measures to mitigate the debilitating water problems after it last week installed new pumps that enable the city to pump up to 180 megalitres per day against the city’s daily consumption of 150 megalitres. The new equipment is set for commissioning at the end of this month. Council replaced the old pumps at Fernhill and Ncema waterworks which were installed in 1973 and had outlived their lifespan affecting the city’s pumping capacity.

The new pumps were installed under the US$33,6 million Bulawayo Water and Sewage Services Improvement Project funded by the African Development Bank.

However, government has been dragging its feet in the completion of the Matabeleland-Zambezi Water Projects (MZWP) which is widely seen as the panacea to water problems in Bulawayo and also the answer to turning the region into a green belt.

But little has taken place for a century since the idea to connect the country’s second capital with the Zambezi River was mooted by the then-governing British South Africa Company in 1912. A lack of political will and inadequate resources to fund this mega project has dashed hopes to end the water crisis.

The battle for control of the project between civil society and government has made matters worse over the years since the time of the late former President Robert Mugabe and now the Second Republic led by President Enmmerson Mnangangwa. BCC has declared 2020 the driest in 28 years, likening it to the drought situation of 1992.

In that year, the local authority had to drill boreholes at an aquifer in Nyamandlovu several kilometers from the city to rescue its residents from a complete dry-out.

However, for the short term before the completion of MZWP which is the long-term solution, Zimbabwe National Tree Ambassador, Never Bonde who fronts a civil organisation, Isandla Esihle has implored the government, local authorities and Zinwa to scoop dams to achieve high water yields countrywide to end water problems, citing Bulawayo as a hotspot.

Bulawayo unlike other towns and cities is facing a debilitating water crisis with residents spending hours looking for the scarce precious liquid as the problem has reached unprecedented levels to become a security risk.

Bulawayo’s water is supplied by six dams which are all in Matabeleland South of which three of them, Umzingwane, Lower Ncema and Upper Ncema having since been decommissioned as water fast ran out reportedly because of siltation.

However, BCC said it decommissioned the dams due to dwindling waters levels, contrary to reports that it was because of siltation but that they were below pumping levels.

All the six major dams namely Lower Ncema, Umzingwane, Upper Ncema, Mtshabezi, Insiza Mayfair and Inyankuni are in the gold panning districts.

Bonde said from his assessment of dams around the country he had discovered that the BCC’s three decommissioned dams were heavily silted to hold enough water for the city.

“Right now I am moving around the country checking on the dams as the National Tree Ambassador. I have discovered that a lot of dams have no capacity to carry water because there is a lot of siltation. For instance, Umzingwane, Upper Ncema and Lower Ncema there is a lot of silt and muddy in the dams. I have also discovered that there are a lot of activities by illegal gold panners known as amakorokoza in the catchment area, ” Bonde said.

He urged government to provide equipment to scoop the dams to increase their water yielding capacity.

“For instance, Lower and Upper Ncema were constructed in the 1943 and 1973, respectively and Umzingwane in 1958. There has been little servicing of the dams, leading to siltation.

Bulawayo is now facing water problems because of siltation. I urge BCC and Zinwa to scoop the dams to ease the city’s water problems,” he said.

A lasting solution to the Bulawayo water problems has been touted to be the only way to restore the city to its glory days of being the Industrial hub of Zimbabwe.

 This feature was first published by the Weekly Digest, an AMH publication

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