BY PHILLIP CHIDAVAENZI
A DISTURBING video clip of a fight that broke out at a communal borehole in one of Harare’s high-density suburbs over a chance to fetch water attracted laughter and a string of jokes on social media.
But beyond the laughter and fun, it spoke to something more serious and tragic as it was emblematic of the water crisis that has gripped Harare as the city battles to supply clean, potable water to residents.
Residents, who spoke to NewsDay, said the water shortages have, particularly, been acute this year, with many boreholes that served as a safety net during prolonged spells of water rationing having dried up.
The development has left residents in a tight spot. Abigail Makore, a mother of four in the sprawling suburb of Budiriro, said access to clean water had become a major challenge.
She said they had not had access to running water for three years, and have had to rely on borehole water, which was now running out as the dry season prolongs.
“It looks like we are on our own and those that are supposed to help us don’t seem to care,” she said.
Makore’s sentiments, that resonate with many other residents, are a serious indictment on the city fathers, who seem overwhelmed by the call to duty at a time access to other services have become increasingly a challenge.
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She said it was painful that she dutifully paid her rates to the city, but there had been no corresponding action from the city fathers in terms of service delivery.
“We are paying for a service that is not there. Our borehole have now virtually run out of water, so we are in trouble,” she said.
Although several houses in the neighbourhood have boreholes, many of them have since dried up and given the apathy by the municipality, many residents are praying for a divine rescue, with hopes that they would be bountiful rains this year to fill up the boreholes and wells once again.
“At least there is hope after we had rains last week,” Tapson Makuvire of Kuwadzana said. “My well was almost running out and we could only get one 20-litre bucket of water, but now it’s better after the rains.”
Urban planning expert, Harvey Muronda, said the water challenges demonstrate urban planning failure on the part of the city authorities.
He said the city’s population has been growing exponentially over the last 20 years, but without corresponding expansion of resources and infrastructure to accommodate the burgeoning population.
“Our city planners should be more forward-looking because it is the nature of cities and towns to grow over time in terms of population. Such growth exerts pressure on the available water infrastructure, which would have been designed for a smaller population,” he said.
He said it was abnormal to have residents dig up boreholes in a city with piped water infrastructure.
“The city authorities should be embarrassed. The fact that residents have resorted to digging their own wells quite clearly demonstrates, beyond anything else, that the city managers have failed.”
Observers attribute the city’s failure to provide a basic service such as water to the endemic corruption and mismanagement in the city.
In his 2020 National Budget last week, Finance minister Ntuli Ncube cited corruption — which has not spared local authorities across the country — as the leading cause of economic malaise and wastage of public resources.
“Based on the Auditor-General’s report, government is losing resources through corrupt activities. In addition, corruption in some parastatals and local authorities has compromised some desired development outcomes,” he said.
Harare Residents Trust (HRT) director Precious Shumba said corruption had contributed to the water management failure in the capital.
“What is not working is the costly arrangements for the provision of water treatment chemicals, involving monopolies and South Africa-based companies created an artificial barrier to the efficient costing of water treatment chemicals and their supplies,” he said.
“The result of these boardroom elitist arrangements make the US$2,5 million monthly payment for water treatment chemicals a deal most beneficial to a few officials, councillors and Local Government bureaucrats. The HRT believes that what is said to be the cost of water treatment chemicals is inflated, unreasonable and a criminal abuse of the procurement system.
This is our major problem.”
Shumba said although government and council were aware of the procurement dilemma, nothing concrete has been done to address the leakages, illegal connections and flawed procurement processes.
In their Water Crisis Fact Sheet No. 2 of 2019, the Zimbabwe Peace Project noted that there was a flagrant violation of Section 77 of the Constitution, which guarantees every citizen’s “right to safe, clean and potable water” and categorically says: “The State must take reasonable legislative and other measures, within the limits of the resources available to it, to achieve the progressive realisation of this right.”
The Harare municipality has singled out foreign currency shortages as the reason for the problem, with deputy mayor, Enock Mupamawonde, recently urging the government to declare the water situation a national disaster.
He said the local authority required at least $40 million (US$2,7 million) a month for water chemicals, against a monthly revenue collection of $15 million.
Against this grim backdrop, water supply has become big business with some enterprising individuals with boreholes selling water to their neighbours for $1,50 per 20-litre bucket.
Desperate residents, like Micheck Mapango of Zengeza 3, have been left with no choice, but to purchase the water — an otherwise free resource from neighbours.
“It is really bad,” he said. “Now we have to include an additional cost to our monthly budget — buying water from neighbours. I have not seen anything like this before.”
In September this year, council spokesperson Michael Chideme said they appealed to the government to declare the water situation a state of emergency.
“We are asking for a bailout, we are asking for the water situation to be declared an emergency or a disaster, so that resources can be pooled together to address the issue. Some of the solutions will include the construction of new water sources like Kunzvi, Musami, Mazowe and Muda dams,” Chideme.
Shumba, however, said the city authorities were not being truthful.
“Their insistence on new water sources is their own way of denying responsibility for their absolute failure to deliver water to plus 60% of connected households. Evidence on the ground suggests that there is sufficient water in Lake Chivero to supply Harare residents with water,” he said.
“What is not working is the costly arrangements for the provision of water treatment chemicals, involving monopolies and South Africa-based companies, which created an artificial barrier to the efficient costing of water treatment chemicals and their supplies.”
Shumba said the identification of Kunzvi and Muda dams as alternative water sources would not be a magic wand that would wipe away the water woes overnight because “they will take five to 10 years to construct and start serving Harare residents.”