Oliver Kazunga and Bongani Ndlovu, Chronicle Reporters
BULAWAYO-BASED agro-processing firm, United Refineries Limited (URL) has temporarily suspended operations at its factory due to shortage of water.

Bulawayo is experiencing the worst water crisis in its modern history blamed largely on the Bulawayo City Council’s failure to expand its pumping capacity in tandem with the growing population.

United Refineries Limited (URL), in existence for more than eight decades, is one of the country’s leading and innovative producers of cooking oil and brands in personal care, hygiene and other value added agro-products categories.

It is also one of the major Bulawayo-based industries that survived collapse when de-industrialisation hit the city starting from 2000.

URL recently introduced mealie-meal production and now has most of its food products fortified with critical vitamins for consumer health benefits.

Over the years, the company has grown to be one of Zimbabwe’s leading brand manufacturers with export focus while looking forward to continued innovation.

The company is also keen to list shares on the newly established Victoria Falls Stock Exchange (VFEX).

With a workforce of about 400 people, officials said URL uses between 60 000 and 150 000 litres of water per day.

In a statement yesterday, URL said water supplies at its factory in the last seven days have not improved forcing the firm to suspend operations.

“We regret to inform our customers, suppliers and stakeholders that we have had limited water supplies to our factory for the last seven days and the situation has not improved.

“As a result, we have had to temporarily suspend our factory operations as we await the situation to normalise,” said the company.

URL said it continues to engage Bulawayo City Council with regards to restoring the situation to normalcy.

“We are aware this is happening as we prepare for the festive season stocking programmes and promotions,” it said.

The company’s chief executive officer Mr Busisa Moyo said they were affected by the low levels at Criterion reservoirs.

“We are looking at other alternative water sources to try and mitigate the situation. That’s why we had to tell our customers because our customers want their products but we don’t have water to produce the products. We have tried (looking for alternatives) over the weekend, bringing in bowsers and the like but we can’t run the plant with such water supplies hence this temporary suspension of production.

“We are aware of the low water levels at Criterion water works, remember where we are situated is at the end of the supply line. So, if pressure is low, we end up with no water,” said Mr Moyo.

“We are shutting down factory operations because we can’t run the factory without water. We are still assessing the situation but we haven’t reached a stage to talk about what will happen to workers. It is temporary and we are hoping the situation will be rectified soon.”

Bulawayo Provincial Affairs and Devolution Minister, Judith Ncube said she was seized with the issue.

“I have seen the statement by United Refineries and I have contacted the Bulawayo City Council to find out. They haven’t replied me yet but our position is that we want to ensure the company does not close,” said Minister Ncube.
Bulawayo Town Clerk, Mr Christopher Dube said: “I haven’t seen the statement from United Refineries so I cannot comment on something that I don’t know.”

In recent years, the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI), which represents the local manufacturing sector, has singled out water shortages is one of the challenges facing Bulawayo companies.

The Zimbabwe National Water Authority (Zinwa) said this week that it has almost completed the drilling and equipping of 10 boreholes at Epping Forest in Nyamandlovu, a project that will deliver an additional 10 megalitres (ML) per day to the city’s depressed water supplies. – @okazunga @bonganinkunzi.