BY MOSES MATENGA
IN 2010, Zimbabwe joined more than 122 nations at the United Nations General Assembly in overwhelmingly adopting a resolution calling on member States and international organisations to provide safe, clean, accessible and affordable drinking water and sanitation for all.
Concern was expressed over the failure by some States to provide the precious liquid to their citizens and that close to 884 million people were without access to safe drinking water.
According to the United Nations, the vote confirmed access to clean, potable water as a human right.
Close to a decade later, Zimbabwe is faced with a deeper crisis as millions across the country and at least two million people in Harare alone are faced with a serious water crisis and ultimately a potential health hazard reminiscent of the 2008 cholera outbreak that left about 5 000 people dead.
Citizens as a result of the crisis have resorted to shallow wells and unsafe boreholes, risking lives in the process.
Government and council have effectively failed to address the water crisis and their proposed solutions have proven a pie in the sky.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa this month revealed that government would avail funds to draw and treat water from Manyame Dam for Harare, dumping the contaminated Chivero Dam to reduce the cost of treating water as efforts to provide clean water remain on the radar.
But the process will take long, and in the meantime, the country’s largest city risks another cholera or typhoid outbreak.
Town clerk Hosea Chisango blamed ageing infrastructure for the water shortages.
Harare’s main water treatment plant Morton Jaffray was constructed in 1952 to cater for a population of 300 000, but the city’s population has now shot to over four million people.
Community Water Alliance director Hardlife Mudzingwa said the solutions to the water crisis were in three parts that stakeholders must explore.
“Firstly, the solution lies with rehabilitation of current infrastructure. This encompasses replacing obsolete infrastructure to ensure water that is produced is not lost through leakages. It also entails rehabilitation of sewage and water treatment plants. Sewage plants are currently polluting raw water,” he said.
His comments came days after the MDC shadow minister for local government, Elias Mudzuri, himself a former Harare mayor, led a delegation that included his deputy Clifford Hlatshwayo, current mayor Herbert Gomba and councillor Kudzai Kadzombe on a tour of the plant.
“The infrastructure has decayed. Council has put in place steps to replace and put new sewage pipes, but the project is half way through because of lack of foreign currency to import equipment. The contractor had targeted December 31, 2019, but the economic situation in the country has made them fail to meet the target,” Hlatshwayo said after the tour.
“There is need to build new water sources. Morton Jaffray and Prince Edward cannot meet the current daily demand of 1 200 megalitres per day,” Mudzingwa said.
Last year, there were reports that government had secured funding for the construction of the $680 million Kunzvi-Musami Dam and for its incorporation into Harare’s water supply system, but it remains a pipedream.
He also said there was need for good financial resources management to address loopholes highlighted by various audit reports commissioned by the city authorities.
The Combined Harare Residents Association (CHRA), in its message to commemorate the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, highlighted that the water crisis was a form of “violence” against women, adding that government must immediately address it.
“CHRA is, however, concerned over the erratic water situation in Harare that has led to victimisation of women and girls. Due to their societal roles, women and girls bear the brunt of water shortages and quite often have to walk long distances, and sometimes during the night in search for water,” the residents association said.
“This has exposed them to physical as well as verbal abuse at water points such as boreholes where there is a sharp increase in water wars.”
The residents group said government must invest in restoring Harare’s water infrastructure as well as in the building of more water sources since Harare’s main water supply, Lake Chivero, has been overwhelmed.
“We take note of the government’s commitment to build the Kunzvi Dam, which is supposed to augment Harare’s water supply but we, however, would like to point out that the $259 million allocated for the project in the national budget is a paltry amount.”
“Dam building is a capital project that requires serious investment and commitment from duty bearers.”
“Government should declare the water crisis a national disaster and open up to humanitarian assistance. There is need for the prioritisation of construction of water sources for example Kunzvi and Musami dams,” the residents said.
On its part, government said: “In light of the water supply challenges affecting Harare and its satellite towns, it will be recalled that Mnangagwa recently visited Morton Jaffray to assess the situation obtaining thereat. Local Government and Public Works minister (July Moyo) reported that water supply capacity at Morton Jaffray is limited due to the poor quality of the raw water in Lake Chivero.
“An assessment of Manyame and Warren control pump stations revealed that pollution of water at Lake Chivero is worse compared to Manyame. Cabinet concurs that pumping water from Lake Manyame reduces the usage of aluminium sulphate by 26,8%. This will consequently reduce the cost of treating water as aluminium sulphate is the main chemical,” he said.
Government resolved to have Harare draw water from Lake Manyame and the Treasury availed US$9,3 million for urgent works at Manyame and Warren control pump stations, which are to be completed in two months.
In its $4,5 billion budget presentation this week, Treasury did not present a clear picture of its strategy to address water challenges and said the budget may be affected by the current hyperinflationary environment.
Council’s finance and development committee chairperson Luckson Mukunguma said the local authority had decided to raise water charges from $5,10 to $20 per five cubic litres, in a bid to improve water delivery.
The water crisis in Harare has been there for too long and proposed solutions have been given but the situation remains dire.