THE majority of residents in Zimbabwe’s major urban areas are drinking sewage-contaminated water due to poor management systems by local authorities, Auditor-General Mildred Chiri has revealed in her latest audit report.
BY MIRIAM MANGWAYA
An assessment by the Auditor-General on six major cities in the country showed that urban local authorities were failing to attend to sewer blockages within 24 hours, resulting in raw sewage mixing with drinking water.
This ultimately gives rise to outbreaks of waterborne diseases such as typhoid, dysentery and cholera, among others.
Unattended sewer blockages also result in sewage back-flowing, which further weakens the pipes, according to the audit findings for the period 2013 to 2017 following a public outcry over sewer bursts.
“The assessment of the urban local authorities’ management of sewerage system revealed a number of weaknesses which contributed to the increase in the number of sewer blockage complaints from consumers,” Chiri said.
“If local authorities fail to attend to blockages within the stipulated eight to 24 hours, raw sewage is lost into the environment before reaching the treatment plants, thereby contaminating water bodies.
“According to interviews conducted, engineers cited that they were doing more of reactive maintenance rather than planned maintenance.”
Results of the assessment also showed that Harare, with the highest population of over 1,5 million people, records the highest number of sewer blockages on average each year, which places residents in the capital city at high risk of contracting waterborne diseases.
The United Nations Environment report of 2013 ranked Lake Chivero, Harare’s main water source, as one of the most 10 polluted lakes in the world.
Statistics from the audit show that Harare discharges about
4 000 megalitres of raw or partially-treated water into water systems.
In responding to the audit, city fathers blamed residents over sewer blockages, citing dumping of kitchen utensils and other items in sewage pipes as the major contributor to infrastructure damages.
Although with a higher population, the audit report said Bulawayo had a better sewer system compared to other councils.
In 2013 alone, 560 people died of waterborne diseases, while close to 600 000 others contracted the diseases countrywide.
In 2008, five years before the audit, Zimbabwe recorded its worst cholera outbreak, which claimed over 5 000 lives, with Harare’s Budiriro and Glen View high-density suburbs the worst hit.
Harare and Bulawayo are staring another crisis due to recurrent water shortages, with Harare declaring incapacitation to buy water treatment chemicals.
Last week, Harare City Council confirmed four cases of typhoid, a bacterial infection that can be transmitted through contaminated water.
The local authorities do not have modern equipment and technologies for sewer system inspection and maintenance and Chiri stated that the government was losing about US$194 million annually owing to poor sanitation practices.
The Auditor-General also noted that poor service delivery by local authorities was discouraging ratepayers from paying their bills, which had resulted in most of them relying on donor funds for maintenance.
Urban local authorities mostly rely on the African Development Bank for funding, but the Auditor-General implored the government to be involved in financing councils and ensure ongoing rehabilitation of sewer systems are done properly.
Chiri urged the local authorities to adhere to routine inspection and maintenance of sewer systems to prolong the lifespan of infrastructure and reduce health hazards.
“Urban local authorities should ensure that rehabilitation of sewer systems is done timeously. They should also procure online equipment for sewer inspection to minimise sewer blockages,” she said.