Feature: When living with sewage becomes normal


A STRONG unpleasant smell engulfs the area as a stream of sewage water steadily flows in a defined path, pointing to the fact that this was not the first time such a sewer burst has happened and neither will it be the last.

Children play hop and jump as they meticulously avoid a meandering stream of sewage which has become a common feature in most parts of Chitungwiza, Harare’s southerly dormitory town.

The residents go about their daily chores seemingly oblivious of the unwelcome guest in their community, but deep inside their hearts, they have a burning desire to access proper social services that include a well-maintained sewerage system.

Linda Kapira, a resident of Zengeza 4 said sewage problems in the dormitory town had become part of their daily lives for many years.

“Here sewage is always bursting and spilling again and again, and we have learned to live with it. It has become a common feature,” she casually said.

“The council comes to repair maybe after three weeks of it spilling and within a few days it bursts again.

“We are no longer scared of cholera or typhoid because this sewage is always bursting, I don’t know why children have not been contracting cholera. We try to stop them from playing near the burst pipes but you cannot control them all the time when they are playing.”

Another resident from Unit N, Seke, Spiwe Mushonga said: “It’s now the norm that sewage is always flowing in our households.

“Council opened a WhatsApp group so that we report burst sewage pipes but they come late to repair and sometimes soon after repair the pipes burst again. They come and repair pipes which are outdated, but because of the growth in population, the effort is insignificant.

“With the bursting of sewer I wish council would provide tap water regularly to avoid diseases. Water is not available here in Chitungwiza and it usually comes out maybe once a month.

“We are ever complaining and this has effects especially on us women because on a daily basis, children are playing in flowing effluent.”

Chitungwiza acting mayor Kevin Mutimbanyoka said dilapidated pipes and shortage of water led to a number of sewage pipes bursting.

“Most of our pipes have corroded and are dilapidated due to age and there is need for new pipes because of that you realise that sewage is bursting everywhere and this is compounded by the fact that we don’t have water,” Mutimbanyoka told NewsDay.

To describe Chitungwiza’s water situation as dire may be an understatement. The town requires on average 70 megalitres of water on a daily basis, but receives just about 20 megalitres from Harare City Council, its sole supplier.

“We then ration those litres to an extent that certain areas do not get enough water for the sewer to actually run properly,” said the acting mayor.

Added to that dilemma are old pipes that are now prone to frequent bursts, which means the entire system requires an extensive overhaul.

“We cannot replace them on our own because we are not getting enough from our revenue collections from residents. A local authority is not a profit-making organisation, so what we do, we charge rentals to our residents and most of our people are failing to pay the bills.”

In its own small way, government — through the Local Government ministry — has provided a qualified engineer, but again the local authority does not have enough workers to attend to all its needs.

“We are relying on casual workers, and we bring them on board when the council has enough funds to pay them. We also have a challenge that most of our sewer lines need de-blocking, but our machines are now old,” Mutimbanyoka said.

Meanwhile, illegal settlements that are mushrooming all over the town are creating new challenges for the sprawling metropolis as the settlers illegally connect their dwellings to sewer lines damaging them in the process.

Chitungwiza Residents Trust director Alice Kuvheya said: “The council must invest in new infrastructure immediately.”

Chitungwiza Ratepayers Association said: “The challenge we are facing right now is the shortage of qualified personnel for such critical departments in Chitungwiza municipality. The whole municipality is now managed by acting people from mayor to all managerial posts. We are facing a bleak future; they don’t prioritise service delivery.”

“We want a qualified engineer, ADB donated several materials for sewage and water, but Chitungwiza does not have a good person for the job. Very soon those materials will not serve their purpose.”

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