Mashudu Netsianda, Senior Reporter
BULAWAYO is sitting on a health timebomb as the city’s water woes continue to mount with most suburbs going for weeks without running tap water, forcing residents to resort to unhygienic water sources in swampy areas.

High lying areas have gone for months without water.

The latest development comes at a time the country is battling Covid-19, which has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and infected millions across the globe.

The city is on a 144-hour shedding schedule but the gruelling timetable has been suspended for almost all Western suburbs supplied by Magwegwe and Criterion reservoirs until the end of this month due to water supply challenges.

Water will be sporadically availed to allow for the consumers to only fill up their containers until the system normalises.

In May, Bulawayo City Council (BCC) was forced to introduce a 144-hour weekly water shedding exercise to manage dwindling levels at the city’s dams.

According to the council’s temporary water supply restoration strategy for yesterday and today, water will be restored starting with high lying areas in the Criterion and Magwegwe reservoirs’ zones while all eastern residential suburbs will remain closed.

Communal boreholes and other strategic points where residents queue to get water from bowsers have turned into hotspots for Covid-19 as social distancing is not maintained.

A Chronicle news crew yesterday visited selected suburbs in the western areas and observed long winding queues for water at boreholes, bowser spots and unconventional wells.

In Pumula East, some residents fetched water from unhygienic water sources dotted in swampy areas. Some women were spotted washing clothes using the water from holes that they had dug around the smelly swamps.

“I come here thrice a week to do my laundry because there is no water coming out of taps. Boreholes have long queues including at areas where council water bowsers supply people with water,” said Ms Elizabeth Bhebhe of Pumula South.

Residents said due to the prevailing water crisis they were forced to utilise the water holes in nearby bushy areas.

“Our taps are dry since last week and it appears council is no longer following the water shedding schedule. We have now resorted to these fountains although the water is not hygienic,” said Ms Priscilla Moyo of Pumula East.

Mrs Betty Moyo (68) of Pumula North said she is forced to travel about 5km daily to fetch water from the polluted sources.

“I wake up as early as 4am and walk all the way to either Pumula East or Pumula South to look for water in the fountains. The water is dirty, but due to this crisis, we have no choice but to crowd around this place,” she said.

Ms Ntombizodwa Ndlovu of Pumula North said: “Many a time we are forced to spend the entire night queuing for water in the bush risking being mugged or raped while waiting for the hole to fill up.”

Ms Tabetha Sibanda of Magwegwe West said the worsened water challenges in the city presented a new health challenge in communities they were living in.

She said they have gone for more than two weeks without running water in the suburb.

“People are forced to crowd in one place to queue for water and this is a health time bomb. We are likely to have a disease outbreak to further compound our problems in light of Covid-19,” she said.

Residents in suburbs like Cowdray Park, Magwegwe West, Nkulumane and Emganwini that have been declared Covid-19 hotspots raised fears of contracting Covid-19 as social distancing is not maintained at communal boreholes.

Nketa suburb residents said prior to the latest dry spell, they would get water from their taps during the 24 hours in a week as per council’s water shedding schedule.

Mr Mduduzi Mpofu of Lobengula West said they are now forced to resort to “bush toilets” to save the little available water secured from water bowsers or communal boreholes.

He said residents in high lying areas are now forced to rely on relatives staying in low lying areas where water supply is better.

When Chronicle visited the affected suburbs, there were long winding queues at boreholes while some churches were allowing residents to fetch water at their premises.

However, residents were failing to adhere to social distancing guidelines.

Tshabalala residents said they feared the spread of Covid-19 through the communal boreholes as they were not sanitised.

“The bush pump handle is held by everyone when it’s their turn to pump water. There are no hand sanitisers. We could be spreading the virus unknowingly there. It’s difficult to practise social distancing,” said Mrs Nomalanga Ncube.

Mr Bestley Ndlovu of Magwegwe North said washing hands regularly is now difficult due to the unavailability of running water in most suburbs.

In April, the local authority said some suburbs could go for eight months without water supplies as they are on high ground.

Already parts of Magwegwe and Lobengula have gone for more than five months without their taps running.

In a statement, town clerk Mr Christopher Dube said the water supply interruptions will last for two weeks.

“The interruption is due to prolonged time needed for the city’s reservoirs to recover since the theft of the 2km of electricity supply cables on July 31 2020 as well as recent three emergency leaks repairs to the Nyamandlovu line on August 6 and the latest power supply challenges to the Rochester Nyamandlovu boreholes which occurred at night on August 13 and which ZETDC is currently working on,” said Mr Dube.

He said the local authority will review the situation regularly until August 28 when they envisage the system to have recovered for supply to be regularised to allow for reversion back to the standing water-shedding programme.

“These factors against the background of City Average Consumption which for the last two weeks has continued to be higher than supply have resulted in the prolonged recovery of the City`s reservoirs. This is further compounded by low dam levels,” said Mr Dube.

The affected suburbs supplied by the Magwegwe reservoir are Luveve, Magwegwe, Njube, Entumbane, Mpopoma, Lobengula, Lobengula West, Mabutweni, Iminyela, Pelandaba, Matshobana, Cowdray Park, Emakhandeni and Gwabalanda.

While those supplied by the Criterion reservoir are Bellevue, West Sommerton, Tshabalala, Sizinda, all of Nkulumane, Nketa, Pumula and Emganwini [email protected]