Harare residents go for years without water

A resident, Brian Muzondi, said they had lost all hope and had learnt to live with dry taps.

Zimbabwe’s constitution guarantees the right to safe, clean and potable water, but residents of one of Harare’s high-density suburbs, Mabvuku, are denied this fundamental right.

For the past three decades, a section of the suburb with an estimated population of about 4 000 people in Ward 19 has not known tap water for years

Numerous efforts to push the government to fulfil its obligation to provide safe, clean and potable water have failed to bear fruit.

A resident, Brian Muzondi, said they had lost all hope and had learnt to live with dry taps.

 “I was born here in 1996 in Mabvuku and have never witnessed water coming out from the taps,” Muzondi said.

“The issue of tap water seems like folklore to us the young generation.

“It’s something that we hear from the elders that there used to be tap water here.”

Residents in the suburb rely on unsafe water sources fully aware of the consequences such as contracting water borne diseases, but they have no other option.

It is only during the rainy season where they enjoy some relief as they harvest water from their roof-tops.

 “The open wells, which we know are unsafe, have turned out to be our reliable sources of water here,” said another resident, Barbara Matikinya.

“We have no other option under the current circumstances.”

Boreholes that have been drilled in the area are failing to cater for the whole population with long and winding queues at these water sources often the order of the day.

Cases of physical and sexual abuse have been reported at the boreholes and women and young girls have often been at the receiving end of this violence.

In 2020, two Mabvuku women made the headlines after murdering a man who attempted to rape them while fetching water at around 5am.

They were, however, freed after the National Prosecuting Authority declined prosecution in the matter.

So dire is the situation in Mabvuku that cases of abuse of women and sex for water continue to be reported.

“People wake up at odd hours to go and fetch water at boreholes or at the open wells,” said one Sandra Kareza.

“There are often very long queues and disorder and bullying is the order of the day.

“This creates a hazardous environment for women and girls as they are more prone to physical and sexual abuse.”

Harare’s water woes have been attributed to a number of factors that include inadequate water infrastructure, obsolete equipment, population growth, corruption and mismanagement.

Harare’s main water supply, Lake Chivero, initially designed to cater for an estimated 300 000 people now caters for nearly five million residents from Harare, Norton, Epworth, Ruwa and Chitungwiza.

The dire water situation in Harare has been worsened by the continued destruction of Harare’s headwater wetlands, which serve as the city’s major source of water after run off.

Construction on wetlands has led to the water table falling drastically while agricultural activities as well as pollution have increased the cost of purification of Harare’s water.

The city requires an estimated US$2 million to purify water monthly.

The current power crisis has fuelled the water crisis as it is affecting treatment and water pumping capacity at the water works.

Community Water Alliance director, Hardlife Mudzingwa said the situation in Mabvuku “is totally unacceptable".

“In as much as the constitution subjects the right to water to the availability of resources, that cannot be an excuse in the case of Mabvuku,” Mudzingwa said.

“Many years have gone by and we cannot condone a situation where residents live without water.

“At least there has to be some movement in terms of access to water.”

Mudzingwa said there was a need for a long-lasting solution to the water crisis in the capital.

“In the long term there's a need to construct the Kunzvi Dam and its accompanying water treatment plant to cater for the suburbs that are in the eastern part of Harare, which include Mabvuku,” he said.

As early as the 1990s, the government had intended to build the dam which was expected to complement Harare’s water supply but financial challenges stalled the project.

It is situated on the opposite side of the metropolitan region from Morton Jaffray Waterworks and Lakes Chivero as well as Manyame.

The construction of Kunzvi Dam has been continuously postponed, mostly due to financial issues and the misguided belief that the water sources already available were adequate.

“We still maintain and call on government, particularly the relevant Ministry and the Zimbabwe National Water Authority to expedite the process of construction of Kunzvi dam,” Mudzingwa added.

According to Mudzingwa, there is a need to manage water distribution so that there is equity in terms of access to water.

Mudzingwa said there is also a need to popularise the concept of solar powered boreholes in Mabvuku and other areas of Harare.

He said the country’s national budget should seriously consider issues of water, sanitation and hygiene.

Combined Harare Residents Association acting director, Reuben Akili, called for fiscal commitment by the government towards construction of more dams to augment raw water supplies.

He added that preservation of Harare’s headwater wetlands is critical in ensuring water supply in the capital.

 “In view of these challenges we call upon protection of the natural infrastructure (wetlands) which plays a role in water provision, purification and storage,” Akili said.

“The upstream activities on the catchment of Lake Chivero have contributed to the water crisis hence the need to protect wetlands.”

Akili said the recently gazetted Environmental Management Agency wetlands map must guide spatial planning in Harare.

“The current chaotic planning that has chewed our wetlands must stop,” he said.

“The City of Harare planning division must respect environmental laws.

“We need wetlands protection policies premised on the community stewardship approach so that communities themselves must realise the benefits of the protection of the natural infrastructure.”

Mabvuku is among the areas in Harare where wetlands destruction is rampant mainly due to farming, construction and sand mining activities.

For example, Cleveland Dam which is among Zimbabwe’s internationally recognised wetland under the Ramsar International Convention on the Protection of Wetlands is under serious threat from sand miners in the area.

Akili said that research in Mabvuku has shown that underground water in the area is scarce.

The Harare City Council says it is rehabilitating the city’s water infrastructure and targeting to provide 536 megalitres of water per day by the end of the year.

Harare’s daily water requirement is 900 megalitres.

Currently, water production in Harare is estimated between 390-410 megalitres per day.

Harare Ward 19 councillor, Munyaradzi Kufahakutizwi said the solution to Mabvuku’s water crisis lies in the construction of more water bodies for Harare.

“We are faced with a very difficult situation in Mabvuku and this is being worsened by the fact that the city’s pumping capacity is low and has been worsened by the power crisis the country is witnessing,” Kufahakutizwi said.

“But ultimately, the solution lies in the construction of Kunzvi Dam which will service Mabvuku and other suburbs and the government must show commitment towards this.”

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