By MOSES MATENGA
WRITING about the 1967 Six-Day War in his 2001 memoirs, former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said: “While the border disputes between Syria and ourselves were of great significance, the matter of water diversion was a stark issue of life and death.”
Just like water had become an issue of life and death between Israel and Syria, the precious liquid has become a social security issue in Harare and observers say if poorly-managed, the situation may reach boiling point.
Closer to home, Harare, a capital city with more than two million people has increasingly become too dry and there is no immediate solution in sight.
The MDC-dominated council has tried, but with little success, to address the water challenges, blaming debtors, government, dilapidated infrastructure and almost everyone, but itself in the process.
“The water situation in Harare is a real social security matter. Public health has been compromised because there is no adequate supply of water,” Harare Residents Trust director, Precious Shumba said.
“Where the water is determined by a few suppliers of water treatment chemicals, and they appear to hold that over council management and councillors, it becomes more difficult.”
Currently, mayor Herbert Gomba said they wait for President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government to avail funds to assist at the Morton Jaffray Waterworks.
“We have not yet received promised money from government, but we are confident we are going to receive it, because we are yet to submit the quantities we want and the money that is needed,” he said.
“We do not have the figures as yet, because our technocrats are still working on them.”
What needs to be done?
“We just have to increase our water sources. We just have to work on the issue of chemicals so that we don’t have to import, but manufacture them here. We cut on time and foreign currency since we are struggling,” Gomba said.
He said the issue of water in Harare was everyone’s responsibility from the consumers to government, hence the blame game must stop.
“There is what council can do and what the Environmental Management Agency can do. The accusations must separate roles on that and sometimes those who accuse council of not doing anything would have caused the problems by not doing anything in making payments. They incapacitated the same council from doing its work and blame council for providing services they would not have paid for,” Gomba said.
“We are now seeking garnishing powers from government so that we take the money. We want to garnish everyone who owes council. If the person has capacity and has not come to us to say he or she has not capacity, the accounts must be garnished. We must inculcate in the minds of our people a culture to pay for services they want council to deliver.”
Council is owed over $1 billion by consumers, government and business.
Others in council have blamed the populist debt write-off by former Local Government minister
Ignatius Chombo ahead of the 2013 elections, describing it as the proverbial last straw that broke the camel’s back.
The move left councils stranded and had a boomerang effect on service provision as residents became reluctant to pay their bills hoping for another debt write-off.
The Chinese, over five years ago, availed more than $144 million loan from the China Exim Bank for the rehabilitation of Morton Jaffray, but the funds were abused by the workers, who bought luxurious vehicles.
Only US$72 million had been availed by the Chinese, but have held back the remainder, amid reports of abuse by Harare.
There were reports of overpricing of goods that have, however, been dismissed by the local authority.
Close to a decade, the funds are yet to be availed and progress has since been stalled. Even the intervention at the highest level by Mnangagwa and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping has not helped matters, as the funds are yet to be availed.
“We had a loan extended to Harare City Council by the Chinese for sanitation and water reticulation. That money was then used to buy cars and other luxuries. It did not address the issues for which the money had been given. So, when I met my brother and colleague President Jinping and discussed this loan. I was not aware what had happened and so I said, ‘Mr President, you gave us this loan, but stopped it before all the money had been fully disbursed’, and he said,
‘My brother, the money was not used for what we had given you for.’ I was not aware people bought cars, some having workshops, which had nothing to do with sanitation. I made an appeal and the money is going to be released.
“Those who spent the money are not in office anymore, but they are likely to be followed,” Mnangagwa was quoted as saying.
Despite the high-level engagement, Harare remains dry and according to a latest notice by the local authority, which has become a norm, the city should brace for yet another dry weekend.
“The City of Harare advises our valued residents and stakeholders of a scheduled shutdown of the Morton Jaffray Water Treatment plant on Friday November 22 and 1600hrs to Sunday November 24 2019 (1600hrs),” the notice read in part.
“The shutdown is to allow routine maintenance at Morton Jaffray and Warren Control stations. This shutdown will affect all the suburbs and satellite towns. Stakeholders are urged to use available water sparingly.”
Currently, there is no joy in the water supply chain in the capital after the closure of Prince Edward waterworks after the supply dam dried up.
According to a latest council report on water, the raw water quality in Lake Chivero has continued to deteriorate, making the treatment process more difficult.
“The poor raw water quality has been due to poor rainfall season since during a good season, when the lake spilled it normally helped in diluting the polluted water,” the report read in part.
One of the dams regarded as a panacea to the water crisis in Harare is Kunzvi Dam, but it has been spoken about more than the action that has been taken.
The site remains there, but with nothing to show signs of progress, a sign observers say, was indicative of lack of seriousness on the part of government.
A visit to the proposed site of the giant dam by NewsDay, recently, showed nothing other than the Nyagui River that meanders through the area. There was no sign of any project taking place in that part of Murewa district.
The proposed Kunzvi Dam is expected to provide 720 megalitres of water to the capital and its environs.