Robin Muchetu, Senior Reporter
THE water situation in the country has seen a sizable number of the population resorting to acquiring large water storage containers in a bid to ensure they have supplies of the precious liquid consistently. The jojo tank has become a common sight in many residential areas including in rural set ups.
People are also engaged in construction and the jojo tank has been used as it comes in 1000, 5000 and 10 000 litre quantities meaning one does not have to constantly look for water but can store the water in the tank for their convenience of use over a considerable period of time.
Its trademark green color ensures its visibility as the tanks can be seen as far as the eye can go as they are mostly perched over five metres from the ground on metal stands.
However, while the jojo tank has been the most convenient in storing water due to perennial water shortages in most parts of the country, it has brought sorrow to two families in Chitungwiza, a tributary town of Harare, when a neighbor’s tank and stand collapsed killing two children and leaving one with a fractured leg.
The 5000 litre tank gave in a month after it had been erected leaving people questioning the structural strength of the tanks’ stand and whether there are any standard procedures that have to be followed.
Sunday News observed that the majority of jojo tanks are erected way too high from the ground. Mrs Marian Shoko from Hillcrest suburb in Bulawayo whose tanks towers exactly four and a half meters from the ground said she did it for gravity.
“The man who came to erect the stand told us that we had to put it high up so that the force of gravity allows the water to flow downwards faster. This is the reason why you see my tank high up there. I did not object to the instruction as I am not a fundi in this area so I allowed the ‘experts’ to do what they know best,” she said.
She said she has also seen a number of jojo tanks erected very high off the ground so she did not dispute when hers was erected.
Mr Lionel Mare of Emganwini on the other hand has a stand that is almost a metre from the ground as compared to the one in Hillcrest.
“I realised that people were being overly dramatic by erecting their tanks four or more meters from the ground as naturally the water will gravitate downwards the moment you just place it just a few centimeters from the ground.
“I erected a concrete stand about a meter high to allow one to use a 20 litre bucket to fetch water easily. I have no challenge in getting the water to come out as it flows out till the last drop and there has never been a problem,” he said.
Mr Mare said it bothered him why people needed very high stands which were costly too.
“I find it of no value to get a stand that is so high which costs one a lot of money. I have seen that these stands have different prices, the smaller ones which are about two-metre-high cost less than these four-meter ones. So, it is up to the owner to buy according to their pockets but a smaller stand is better,” he suggested.
Mr Dominic Sithole, a quantity surveyor and project manager blamed short cuts, poor workmanship and lack of policies and regulations on the construction of these stands.
“It is really sad that such an incident happened and there was loss of life. This is all because people want to take short cuts and do not want to engage professionals when they are doing this kind of work. There are also no solid rules on how this is supposed to be done. But if anything, people must respect work on structural nature and they have to engage those with the knowledge and experience,” he said.
There are also a number of things that come in to play that force people to erect the jojo tank stands very high off the ground, said the engineer.
“This is all to do with pressure, the higher you put the tank, the more pressure is exerted because water will be gravitating to all the points water should be supplied to. The other thing is when such work is being done one should put in a lot of factors in order to come up with a strong design. The other issue is wind forces. In most cases there are no wind breakers around the tank, wind can push the structure to collapse. But there are always measures put in place to cater for such eventualities which lay people may not know,” he added.
Mr Sithole said the cost of doing business was also not favorable for many.
“The economic environment is also not favorable; people just wake up with a decision to put a tank and they try to cut as much costs as possible as they have limited funds but have the will to have tanks put up because of water challenges. So, in the end, while trying to cut costs they may leave out some vital aspects which lead to weakening of the structure and cause such tragedies,” he added.
He further said the tank that fell and killed the children could have fallen on top of a roof, cars and other objects in the yard of the house in question, saying these tanks must be placed not very close to such things in the event of their collapse. He added that the parties involved could go the legal route to seek recourse to report the shoddy job.
“Looking at this Chitungwiza case, if it was a company that erected the stand, then maybe there is recourse to be paid, people can take legal action against each other.
“These workers may have just been individuals that do not have the knowledge on the construction of stands, they didn’t even go to school for this to know enough about it. It is people who just managed to get their hands on a welding machine and tell themselves that they are qualified and can make a stand. This calls for them to answer this case before a court of law,” he added.
Commenting on the manner in which jojo tank stands are erected, he said welding was not an option.
“In most cases when you are putting up such structures you are supposed to be using bolts and nuts as opposed to welding because welding actually weakens the structure as you will burn the steel. At the end of the day, the structure will collapse under the weight of water,” he said.
Engineer Lawrence Nhandara from Caritas Zimbabwe said there was a need for those erecting jojo tank stands to consult with engineering departments from council before they put up such structures.
“There is a need for approval when erecting stands because the loads involved are very high. You need to then consult with an engineer at council and you get the correct advice. The structures need to be done to the correct specifications to prevent accidents. There are many people who have been killed after structures collapse and the tank falls on humans.
“An engineer needs to come and assess, this is when we see if you are using materials like steel or concrete, some people want to use brick and mortar which might not be strong enough to hold a specific load, so expert advice is needed,” he said
Nonetheless, the Bulawayo City Council which is responsible for overseeing the construction of structures in the city had not responded to questions from this publication at the time of going to print.