Urban councils cost the Government about US$200 million annually through health and environmental costs due to failure to manage sewer reticulation systems, with only one percent of their total sewerage infrastructure in good shape, the Auditor-General’s report has revealed.
In the 2018 harmonised elections, the MDC took control of 26 out of 32 urban local authorities, including all the largest, among them Harare, Bulawayo and Chitungwiza.
In some areas, raw sewage is flowing on streets from blocked or burst sewers, and sewage treatment has almost collapsed in some councils, with untreated or partially treated sewage flowing into rivers and dams.
In her 2019 report on Management of Sewerage System by Urban Local Authorities under the Ministry of Local Government and Public Works that was tabled in Parliament last week, Auditor-General Mrs Mildred Chiri said her staff examined a sample of six urban local authorities, including the largest three.
The sampled local authorities are Harare, Bulawayo, Mutare, Masvingo, Chitungwiza and Marondera municipality.
“Failure to properly manage sewage and sewerage systems has deadly repercussion,” she said.
“Poor sanitation is costing Government approximately US$194 million per year, or the equivalent of 1,3 percent of Zimbabwe’s annual Gross Domestic Product.”
Mrs Chiri said the figures reflected the adverse health effects associated with poor sanitation and water supply such as medical costs of treating cholera and typhoid, as well as loss of productivity that resulted when individuals were sick and others had to care for them.
“Water-borne disease outbreaks will continue to rise with possible increases in deaths,” she said.
“Maintenance and inspections of the sewer reticulation system is still inadequate and this affects the effectiveness of the flowing, collection and treatment of wastewater, with the probable collapse of the whole system which is evidence that urban local authorities do not have the capacity to resuscitate.”
Mrs Chiri said while the assessment revealed that there were systems in place for the management of sewer systems, they were not being adhered to.
“Due to the failure by the urban local authorities to attend to blockages within the stipulated eight to 24 hours, raw sewage is lost into the environment before reaching the treatment plants, thereby contaminating water bodies,” she said
“The raw sewage flowing on the ground will mix with potable water, thereby resulting in water-borne diseases. Furthermore, delays in repair of sewer blockage/chokes will result in backflow of sewage increasing pressure on inlet pipes and joints or weaker points will give in to pressure, thereby causing further blockages.”
Mrs Chiri recommended the local authorities to, among other issues, adhere to routine inspection and maintenance schedules of sewer systems.
She recommended that urban councils should ensure that they procure online machines and equipment for inspections and maintenance of the sewer reticulation system to reduce the number of sewer blockages and waterborne diseases.
In the year assessed by Mrs Chiri, Harare recorded thousands of typhoid cases with the council acknowledging that it was to blame for outbreak of water-borne diseases due to its failure to constantly supply clean water and delays in attending to sewer bursts or leakages.