A disturbing video clip of a fight that broke out at a community 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.
BY PHILLIP CHIDAVAENZI
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 has been battling 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 had 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 has become a major challenge.
She said they have 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 deepened.
“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 – which resonated with those of many other residents –are a serious indictment on the city fathers who seemed overwhelmed by the call to duty at a time access to other services had become increasingly illusive. She said it was painful that she dutifully paid rates to the city, but there have 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 has 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 a few rains last week,” said Tapson Makuvire of Kuwadzana.
“My borehole 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 population has been growing exponentially over the last 20 years but without corresponding expansion of resources and infrastructure to accommodate the burgeoning number of residents.
“Our city planners should have been 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.
“This is one of the key challenges we have seen in Harare. If there have been any efforts to expand the water infrastructure, then it has been nowhere near the rate of the population growth.”
Muronda said the fact that many residents have resorted to digging their own boreholes, especially in high density suburbs, was a serious indictment on those tasked to manage the country’s cities.
He said it was abnormal to have residents dig up boreholes in a city with piped water infrastructure.
“The city authorities should be embarrassed, really. The fact that residents have resorted to digging their own boreholes 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 of the city. In his 2020 National Budget presentation last week, Finance minister Ntuli Ncube cited corruption – which has not spared local authorities across the country – as the leading cause 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 spokesperson Precious Shumba said corruption has contributed 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 those boardroom elitist arrangements makes 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.”
While central and local government have on several occasions cited lack of resources to provide services, the extent of the water challenges, virtually afflicting the entire city of Harare, has been a major cause for concern.
The Harare municipality has singled out foreign currency shortages as the reason for the shutdown, 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 revenue of $15 million collected every month.
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 bucket.
Desperate residents, like Micheck Mapango of Zengeza 3, have been left with no choice but to purchase the water – an otherwise free resource among neighbours.
“It is really bad,” he said. “Now we have to include an additional cost to our monthly budget – and buying water from neighbours. I have not seen anything like this ever.”
Women and young girls have largely borne the brunt of the water crisis as they spend most of their days scrounging for the precious resource, with unconfirmed reports of men soliciting sexual favours from women so that they could easily access water at boreholes in some high density suburbs.
ZPP called upon the government and local authorities to ensure the right to water is protected and upheld.
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,” said Chideme. Shumba, however, said the city authorities were not being truthful.
“Their insistence on a new water source is their own way of denying responsibility for their absolute failure to deliver water to plus 60% of connected households. Evidence on the grounds 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, 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 will wipe away the water woes overnight because “they will take five to 10 years to construct and start serving Harare residents.”
Shumba suggested the need to deal with “the cartels handling the procurement of water treatment chemicals, plugging leakages and thefts of water along the water distribution network, as well as safeguarding Harare’s wetlands” because their unregulated conversion into residential areas has worsened the water situation.
“Wetlands serve as the sponge that naturally purifies our water, but when the natural system is interfered with by politicians and bureaucrats desperate for money and to accumulate political gains, sustainable development is hindered,” he said.
The city torched a storm in 2014 after management used part of the US$144,4 million loan received from China in 2010 for water and sewerage reticulation to buy 25 luxury cars, which include Land Rovers and Range Rovers.
The then mayor, Bernard Manyenyeni, told a full council back then: “Every day we are waking up to surprises, the deal continues to be too cloudy to be ignored. There are reports that council bought vehicles using funds from the water project. We cannot continue to ignore these reports, we have to do something about them.” Last month, President Emmerson Mnangagwa intervention to China over the outstanding US$72 million from the $144 million Harare Water and Sanitation Rehabilitation Facility from China-Exim Bank.
Speaking on the sidelines of a special council meeting, town clerk Hosiah Chisango said they were now working with government over the crisis.
“Our lack of capacity to repay the loans has been holding us back, but now that government said it is going to assist us pay part of the loans that is how we want to commence these deals.
Government said it can assist in the projects which are social ones,” he said.
Harare supplies water to the dormitory towns of Norton and Chitungwiza as well as Ruwa and Epworth. Of the current around 400 megalitres treated and pumped daily from Morton Jaffray Water Works, at least 60% is lost along the distribution network due to leakages and illegal connections although none of the implicated council officials have been brought to book.