$45m goes down the drain Councils snoring on the wheel
They often say when you pray for the rain, you should prepare to deal with the mud that comes with it.
However, for most cities and towns around the country, whenever it rains, they have to contend with spontaneous flash floods and momentary deluges.
More often than not, torrential downpours have been turning city roads into roaring rivers and rivulets that are impassable.
For the odd drivers that often try to navigate their way around flooded roads, potholes and exposed stormwater drains lurk beneath the murky waters.
Ordinarily, the drains are supposed to funnel rainwater away from the roads to prevent them from being damaged and flooded, but this has not been the case for several years.
But the regularity and scale of flooding, especially of roads and homes, has particularly increased this year owing to incessant rains, clogged drains and uncollected garbage.
“My car recently plunged into a stormwater drain that was concealed by heavily flowing water as I was parking along George Silundika Avenue— between First Street and Angwa Street. My bumper and a fog light were damaged in the process. What I did not understand though, is the fact that water was not going into the stormwater drain, but flowing over it,” said Gift Chimedza, a Harare resident.
Most vendors, who have made cities their home, usually store away cardboard boxes, which they use as convenient foldable tables for their wares, in drains.
Uncontrolled littering, which is compounded by uncollected garbage heaps that are usually deposited by rainwater into the drains, have made the problems even worse.
Sometimes, the vendors themselves become victims.
Irene Munava, who operates in the Central Business District (CBD), recounts how flash floods almost crippled her in 2019.
“I went through a difficult time for months as I nursed my fractured leg. I could hardly work as I was walking with the aid of crutches. I faced challenges in raising money for school fees and food for my two children, let alone pay for my medical bills,” Munava recounted.
“I fell into a storm drain that was filled with water on my way home. Council is letting us down; they need to act on this hazard. Imagine how many other people have suffered similar misfortune?”
But no one is prepared to take the blame.
Local Government and Public Works Deputy Minister Dr Marian Chombo told The Sunday Mail Society that these challenges could be easily addressed if stakeholders pulled in one direction.
“The Government, in September last year, approved a contingency plan for the 2020/21 rainfall season, where it stated that all towns and cities must clear stormwater drains to avoid flash floods that have become a problem over the years,” she said.
“A circular to that effect was sent to town clerks and mayors by the Minister of Local Government and Public Works, July Moyo. Some municipalities responded positively and have little or no challenges at present while those that are yet to comply have been found wanting by the rains.”
However, Harare City Council claims the rate of littering is making their efforts to clear drains almost impossible.
“Recently, we unclogged Albion Street in the CBD, including other areas around Highfield. But within a week, the drainages were blocked again. Our efforts are being stalled by the public as we keep going in circles,” bemoaned City of Harare acting spokesperson Innocent Ruwende.
“If refuse is dumped correctly in bins and other dumpsites, it will not cause drain blockage, even if it is uncollected for some days. If it does at all, it is to a lesser extent. Litter that is wantonly thrown around by the public causes blockages. Also, we have the issue of vendors that remove filters on stormwater drains — that is also creating problems for council.”
The city claims the $45 million it got from the Zimbabwe National Road Administration (Zinara), which was meant for the rehabilitation of stormwater drains, was garnished by the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra).
It is not only Harare that is reeling.
Residents of Marondera’s Dombotombo suburb are up in arms with their municipality for sleeping on the wheel.
Not only is the drainage in the city blocked by silt from cultivation at undesignated land, but illegal construction work on wetlands is being blamed for some of the flash floods.
Families in Harare’s Budiriro 5 were recently left homeless after their houses and properties were submerged in water.
Late last year, some parts of Bulawayo’s Cowdray Park, Pumula, Nketa and Nkulumane, among others, were hit by flash floods, which resulted in several houses and roads being waterlogged.
Elizabeth Murefu — a mother of four based in Manyame Park in Chitungwiza — said this year’s rainy season has been her worst nightmare in the past six years.
“There are at least 10 houses in this area that get flooded. At times the water rises up to knee level when we receive heavy rains. The sad thing is council sold us this land. We are now stranded,” she said.
“ . . . we wait for the rains to subside and then scoop out the water and dry our property. Unfortunately, some of the property that include beds and electrical gadgets have been damaged beyond repair.”
Environmental Management Agency (EMA) spokesperson Ms Amkela Sidanke said “flash floods in residential areas are largely due to settlements that were constructed above water routes”.
“Generally, construction causes degradation of land and degraded wetlands lead to low water runoff and also affects the quality of the water as the streambank cultivation disturbs the entire ecosystem,” she said.
Over the years, unscrupulous land barons have been parcelling out land on wetlands and stream banks, which are protected under Section 113 of the Environmental Management Act.
The Agency, however, is in the process of crafting a Wetland Management Policy to strengthen the management framework.
“The policy is already in the draft stage and we are working on it together with wetland management guidelines. In fact, we want to bring all ecologically sensitive areas, including stream banks, into these guidelines,” she said.
“These pieces of legislation will set a standard management of all ecological sensitive areas in the country. The compilation of these instruments is bringing all stakeholders on board. We still try to conscientise people not to settle, cultivate or carry out any human activity on areas that are deemed to be ecologically sensitive as it is against the law to do so.”
Town planning and Local Government practitioner Dr Percy Toriro, believes that local authorities, vendors and the general public need to work together to restore sanity.
“Part of the approval process for development and infrastructure is assessing the adequacy and appropriateness of drainage, so all approved areas would have considered that,” said Dr Toriro.
“The real problem is in unplanned or illegal settlements because these areas have not been assessed, hence drainage issues, as with many other important issues, would not have been addressed professionally.”
Construction and town planning expert Engineer Harrison Marange blames council’s town planning department for failing to follow simple engineering procedures.
“Every year around September, the council is supposed to carry out maintenance work on drains, but that is not happening.
“Besides, council needs to widen V-drains and trap-drains that have now become overwhelmed by large volumes of water passing through them,” explained Engineer Marange.
“Harare was built on a waterway, hence there is need for a clear strategy to re-direct water out of the city. It sad that council has destroyed wetlands by turning them into residential areas. Under such circumstances, they should at least have created underground pipes to redirect water.
“In the CBD, screening nets that protected litter from blocking the drains got old and were never replaced or in some instances, they were removed by vendors.
“Also, residents are growing flowers and lawn in drainage systems, which in turn clogs the channels through siltation. V-drains damaged during riots are also not being repaired. All that need to be addressed if a solution is to be found.”