Sunday Mail Reporters
As the country is in the throes of the worst drought in the past four decades, provision of potable water for human beings and livestock in both rural and urban areas, particularly urban settlements, has become desperately urgent.
The crisis is being keenly felt in the capital, Harare, where the Harare City Council (HCC) has since scaled back supplies ostensibly because of “failure by users (ratepayers) of municipal services to meet their end of the bargain.”
As a result, tapes in most suburbs have run dry, especially in the past three weeks.
This has caused significant disruptions to most people’s lives. For 15-year-old Kambuzuma High 1 student, Clara Maganga, the time spent fetching water is shaving precious study time for her schedule.
“It is really affecting my education and I am worried about my grades this term,” she said.
It is a similar ordeal for Abigail Muponeswi, 35, who has had to juggle onerous tasks between sourcing water for her family and minding her tuckshop.
But, chairperson of the information and publicity committee, Councillor Barnabas Ndira, however, believes that water woes for the capital’s two million plus population will continue.
City of Harare, he claims, is now owed $987 million. Although Government bailed out the local authority with a $37 million cash injection, city fathers say they actually need more money as their budget, particularly for water treatment chemicals, keeps ballooning.
While council’s monthly collections range between $13 million and $20 million, it spends $35 million on water treatment chemicals, $12 million on salaries and $8 million on fuel.
In essence, its expenses – excluding outlays for critical service provision – overshoots its monthly revenues by $35 million.
“Our expenditure has overshot our collections in just one service delivery mandate – water,” said Cllr Ndira.
“Most of the services offered by council are unfunded as ratepayers have decided to abandon their obligations. Until a superior revenue collection model is secured, the City will continue to lower its offering of municipal services,” he said.
However, residents believe City of Harare’s ineptitude, which has led to the collapse of the billing system, illegal settlements on wetlands and inability to raise capital, is the main reason behind the current water crisis. Harare’s billing system (BIQ) – which was provided by South African developer Quill Associates – was shut down on March 21 2019 after fees for the billing system were raised from US$35 000 to US$75 000.
Attempts to migrate to a new system have proved difficult. As a result, most ratepayers, unsure of their bills, have not been paying council.
Government steps in
In addition to releasing $37,4 million to council, Treasury has also disbursed $46 million to the District Development Fund (DDF) to help drill 600 boreholes that will provide clean water for consumption and irrigation, especially in the country’s eight rural provinces.
Significant progress has been made.
DDF director of water supplies and maintenance Mr Edwin Toriro told The Sunday Mail that the borehole drilling exercise is ongoing.
“The exercise of drilling boreholes is going well. In some areas, they are now using the boreholes.
“We have finished drilling boreholes in Glen View, Masvingo, Zaka, Mangwe, Gwanda South and Beitbridge. We have also finished in Chegutu, Makonde, Tsholotsho and Uzumba Maramba Pfungwe,” he said.
“Now, the team is moving to Hwedza (Mashonaland East), Buhera and Mutare (Manicaland).”
DDF has also dispatched teams that are inspecting and fixing boreholes that are not functioning properly countrywide.
“Sixty-two district maintenance teams have been distributed countrywide and they will be responsible for hand-pump rehabilitation, as well as fixing old boreholes,” he said.
The current initiatives follow a directive by President Mnangagwa to the District Development Fund (DDF) to that effect.
Although most residents in Harare are now relying on boreholes, there are fears they would run dry as the water table retreats.
Part of the problem has been blamed on the city fathers, who are accused of systematically allowing settlements to mushroom on wetlands, which traditionally sponged rainwater; thus, naturally replenishing the water table.
Harare Wetlands Trust coordinator Mrs Julia Pierini believes HCC is clueless insofar as enforcing orderly settlements is concerned.
“Developing on wetlands is a recipe for disaster and we really feel that the City of Harare has not done much to address the issue of wetlands because we continue to see developments in such areas.
“If we continue to develop on these areas, it means reduced delivery of clean water to supply dams and it will be an expense to the council in treating and sourcing alternative water supplies,” she said.
It is also feared that if the current situation is allowed to continue, it would inevitably result in an outbreak of waterborne diseases. Cases of diarrhoea in Harare have since risen to alarming levels, with Dzivaresekwa recording over 360 cases as of last week.
The outbreak coincides with the city’s deepening water woes.
A disease outbreak will cost the country more to contain and will put a strain on the country’s health delivery system.