Blessings Chidakwa Municipal Correspondent
Epworth is by no doubt Harare’s worst slum, a conundrum of clustered houses that rely on shallow wells almost always pegged a spitting distance from pit toilets.
With few official streets, most of them without names, this is a place for the poorest of the poor. An abyss of poverty!
Once a farm owned by missionaries, Epworth started as a squatter camp for refugees of Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle, and with time, developed into an urban settlement for mainly the poor.
At the heart of this sprawling settlement lies a pool whose limpid and translucent waters have claimed many lives — of young and old, men, women and children, foetuses even — earning the evil sobriquet, The Pool of Death.
The former quarry open cast mine exudes an aura of death.
Here many people hard-pressed with life issues beyond their comprehension have committed suicide by drowning themselves. A few lucky ones have been rescued.
And, here, many women have aborted and thrown their foetuses into the dam. It is here again that many things have been dumped, hard and soft.
Finally, the water has found its way into domestic chores such as washing clothes and cars, watering gardens and many others, and with heightening water woes, it might not be poor imagination if some people have already started drinking it.
But when minds are put together, the pool formed from a quarry pit that was central to the construction of Hatfield suburb and beyond, could turn from a pool of death to a pool of life if the current mantra of trying to purify the water for domestic use materialises.
For those who know the pool and its darker side, it might as well be unfathomable to think that way, but for those who have known that cities like Harare indeed drink recycled water from their toilets, with right planning and technology plus will power, the pool could cleanse its name and become a saviour.
The pool, estimated to be more than 100 metres deep, was formed as a result of quarry mining that took place during the construction of Harare’s south-eastern suburbs.
“I have been at the pool for more than 20 years now, saving lives, crashing stones, running a thriving car wash business and fetching water for willing people.
“I have two kids going to school and they are just leading normal lives like any other in the neighbourhood.
“Since I came to the pool, more than five guys have since joined me. We are fending well for our families,” Mr Chenjerai Murenge.
On the maximum use of the dam, a water and environmental expert Mr Patrice Chakanyuka said the Pool of Death needed attention since the masses are directly polluting that pool.
“There is need to put up tanks so that water can be pumped from the pool into tanks and people can access water safely.
“The whole pool now needs to be fenced off to prevent further contamination of the water body,” he said.
Sadly, no attempt has been made by both the local authority and private players to ascertain the quantity of water in the pool.
Mr Chakanyuka said engagements with the council for a private organisation to utilise the water body have been futile over the years, but he proposed that less than three chemicals can be used to treat water for domestic consumption.
“A scientific research needs to be done in earnest to see whether the water can be used for commercial purposes. If so, water can be transported to Cleveland Dam and the whole eastern area of Mabvuku and Tafara can regularly access water because of this initiative,” he said.
Epworth Local Board town secretary Dr Wilton Mhanda said council was yet to quantify the amount of water in the aquifer, which might be the long-needed solution to end water woes in the area.
“We don’t know the amount of water in the aquifer, but all year round it never runs dry. There are people who approached us with the intention of quantifying the water, and we are still waiting for that assessment before we lure investors.
“All these years the dam had clean water up until 2017 when it became brownish like, but now it is getting stable with time. We are not sure what had contaminated it,” he said.
In 2005, the then Ministry of Water Resources and Infrastructure Development through the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (Zinwa) attempted to look at ways of making use of the water in the disused quarry dumpsite, but nothing has materialised up to now.
Zinwa corporate communications and marketing manager Mrs Marjorie Munyonga said no studies were carried out yet to establish the quantity of water in the pool.
“The quantity of the water being held in the pool, which is believed to be from groundwater recharge, can only be ascertained after detailed studies are carried out.
“As for the suitability of the water for treatment for the purposes of human consumption, there is need for the water to be subjected to proper water quality tests and analysis to determine its quality and the feasibility of purifying it.
“These tests have not been conducted as well,” she said.
However, residents are hopeful that the water body can come to their rescue on the water woes that have haunted the area for decades now.
Residents say private players have over the years been trying to assist the council to utilise the water source, but up to now, that still remains a pipe dream.
Mrs Anna Nzou called for serious attention to be given to the water body by Government, council and private players.
“It is sad that our council is seating on a vast water body that has never dried up over the past two decades, nor water levels dropped except for this year were we witnessed a slight drop due to the drought experienced nationwide,” she said.
“The issue of amount of water at the pool should not really be a major concern as we are using the water daily.
“What we want is to access that water safely, it should be treated, imagine the number of dead bodies that are thrown here, we risk contracting diseases,” she said.
Environmental Education and Publicity Officer Harare provincial spokesperson Ms Batsirai Sibanda said if council intends to draw water from the body, it should stand guided by World Health Organisation standards.
“The onus of drawing water is on council to first do water tests following WHO standards and be able to meet them,” she said.