Patrick Chitumba Midlands Bureau Chief
FOR the past five days, Mr Munyaradzi Zano (35) of Mkoba 6 suburb in Gweru has been waking up at around 2am to queue for water at a nearby municipal borehole to avoid the queues as the council pumps less water owing to power problems.
Mr Zano has set his smartphone’s alarm at 2am. He has no choice because from around 5am, there will be long queues at the borehole. There is also another reason for waking up at that early: if the borehole is used continuously for hours by around 8am it will start pumping muddy water.
So Mr Zano, a father of one, gets to the borehole early and normally he finds no one there or at least two or three people will be ahead of him and it takes less than 30 minutes for his turn to come.
Gweru residents have been descending to council’s 52 boreholes to get water for domestic use as the city is enduring water cuts for five days per week due to electricity problems. Zesa introduced a tight load-shedding schedule which is affecting pumping of water.
Since there are no functioning street or tower lights, Mr Zano said as he walks to the borehole at such an awkward hour, he is forced to use his smartphone for light, but is afraid it will also attract robbers.
In a statement last week, the Gweru City Council said power would be cut for 10 hours per day at its main Gwenhoro Water Works and six hours a day at the Range Booster.
“I have a two-year-old daughter and her mother who need water for bathing, cooking and other things. We don’t have a borehole at my lodgings and the only solution is going to that borehole near Zaire Bar where someone was murdered two weeks ago. I am one of the residents who have no choice but to wake up at 2am to queue for water. Of course, I will be worried that I might meet robbers and lose my life but I have no choice because my family needs water,” said Mr Zano.
The council statement said: “Hence, we will not be pumping for 16 hours on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday owing to the recently released national 2021 load-shedding programme by ZETDC (Zimbabwe Electricity Transmission and Distribution Company). We, therefore, encourage residents to use water sparingly as some areas will not receive water at all on these days.”
As a result of the load shedding, Gweru water woes have escalated at a time when the city has for months been facing challenges in pumping water as a result of incessant pipe bursts caused by ageing infrastructure.
Gweru Residents and Ratepayers Development Association Trust executive director Pastor David Chikore said they were afraid that residents will be exposed to water-borne diseases.
Pastor Chikore said council should find a way to reduce its overdependence on power supply from Zesa to significantly reduce the cost of water to the consumer.
“The cost of chemicals and electricity contribute significantly to the pricing of water supplied by council and efforts to significantly control these cost drivers will go a long way in addressing the high cost of water. While for chemicals, council might not have an alternative to switch to, the reverse is true for electricity. At the last time of checking, electricity is the second highest cost driver at council after employment costs and reducing the power bill will contribute significantly towards lowering the resident’s monthly bill from Town House,” he said.
“In this regard, our council should seriously consider teaming up with the Shurugwi Town Council and approaching the central Government for assistance in installation of a solar powered system at Gwenhoro Dam to power the water purification and pumping system.”
Pastor Chikore said council should prioritise addressing water problems.
“Our council should seek central Government intervention through the construction of a dam for Gweru’s water supply to augment the current Gwenhoro dam’s output. Gweru as a city has grown and continues to grow as evidenced by the several housing developments coming up, and it is only rational and prudent to put in place a relatively corresponding capital outlay towards a secure and sustainable water source. Council should also devise ways of harvesting the abundant rain water which falls far away from the dam’s catchment area. Megalitres of rain water are allowed to flow freely into the heavily contaminated Gweru River and our council can do well by investing in systems that collect such water,” he said.
Gweru Residents and Ratepayers Association director Mr Conileus Selipiwe said they were afraid that the unavailability of water will put residents’ lives at risk of water borne diseases.
“Besides water borne diseases, residents, women and children are forced to wake up at night to go and look for water. The streets are dark. We are inviting trouble to mostly the girls and women who might fall prey to criminals. We are better off with water in our homes than Zesa because water is life,” he said.
Gweru mayor Councillor Josiah Makombe said they have engaged Zesa to consider Gwenhoro and Range Booster as critical services which don’t need load shedding.
“We have been engaging Zesa and we will continue engaging them. Previously they have said their power is depressed hence the need to load shed us,” he said.
Clr Makombe said because of load shedding, the local authority is forced to pump less water to residents.
“The city needs at least 80 megalitres of water a day and before this load shedding, we were pumping 45 megalitres. Now we are forced to pump even less meaning that demand is outstripping supply hence the tapes are running dry and we see residents resorting to boreholes and other sources for water. We have 52 boreholes which are all functioning,” he said.