THE Harare City Council (HCC) seems to be in a catch-22 situation regarding water treatment chemicals, which forced the temporary shutdown of Morton Jaffray (MJ) water treatment plant on Monday.
At least three million people, especially in Harare, Chitungwiza and Norton, were left without water after the closure of the plant.
The situation was made worse after HCC decommissioned the Prince Edward water treatment works near Chitungwiza after its sources, Harava and Seke dams, dried up.
The council has to import the numerous chemicals needed to make drinking water safe from South Africa since most local companies that used to manufacture the products either shut down or are incapacitated.
It is a cumbersome task to import the chemicals considering the complex logistics and scarce foreign currency needed to finance the purchase.
At the moment, HCC is owed about $1 billion by the government, companies and residents in unpaid rates.
It seems there is just systematic delinquency — especially by residents — when it comes to paying their dues to council.
The government has become a notorious debtor, leaving most local authorities reeling as they are not receiving their payments.
When the situation at Morton Jaffray looked dire, the government was forced to react and released $37,4 million to HCC.
However, the amount is not enough due to the skyrocketing prices of the chemicals and the ever-changing exchange rate.
In the end, HCC had to be bailed out by the Bulawayo City Council (BCC), which sent some of their stock of chemicals to the capital.
HCC’s supplier also availed some stocks but, combined with the batch from BCC, the chemicals will only last for seven days.
MJ resumed normal operations on Wednesday evening but there is no telling for how long it can remain online due to this intermittent supply of treatment chemicals.
A practical solution is now needed to ensure that the Monday situation is never repeated. The current scenario is an indictment on Harare for its failure to plan.
Also, the budget allocations for HCC are not tallying with reality on the ground as the council has to seek foreign currency on the interbank market.
Although most households are barely surviving in this harsh economic climate, it is high time the government allows HCC to increase its tariffs.
The government must also play its part by paying its debt to council.