A TRIP around the eastern suburbs in Bulawayo leaves one wondering if people still depend on council water.
Almost every house has a water tank and at the gate it is inscribed boldly that “borehole water here”. It appears that residents in these affluent suburbs have long given up on council and have resorted to drilling boreholes and artificial water harvesting.
Well, good for them who are privileged enough to drill boreholes and install tanks to store water. The “water crisis” in the city is something they hear of from the media. Do they really care about the water shedding regime put by the Bulawayo City Council (BCC)?
One wonders if they do because while their counterparts in the western suburbs yearn for a single drop to drink, those in the eastern suburbs have thousands of litres to feed their lawns and orchards.
Water can run for the whole day without a bother It’s now a matter of dry lips in the western suburbs and green
lawns on the other side of town. Driving westwards gives another impression, probably a sorry one. In the western suburbs it is a different story. There are winding queues at community boreholes with residents desperately waiting for the precious liquid.
Sometimes you see residents gathered around a council bowser waiting for some water which they get at most two 20 litre buckets per family.
Who can budget such a small amount of water for all domestic purposes? It is now normal to have dry taps for weeks or even months. Running taps are now abnormalities in the city as Bulawayo is hit by what seems to be a perennial water crisis. Suburbs like Pumula East have gone for six months without any drop and it appears so normal.
Last year, 13 Luveve residents died allegedly due to contaminated water in the city. Cowdray Park residents are on
record saying they have accepted that they are treated as non-Bulawayo residents “because they are exempted from water rights in the city”.
Well, as city fathers always say that the crisis owes to small volumes of water in dams, what about now when there are heavy downpours that are actually flooding dams and rivers?
The question now comes, is Bulawayo’s water crisis natural or man-made? Is it a matter of nature or there is somewhere where the authorities missed it? Should residents keep crossing fingers for rains or authorities simply need to do something about how they manage water in the city?
The Matabeleland Institute for Human Rights (MIHR) mobilised residents to stage an online protest to question BCC and the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (Zinwa) on their policies concerning water. Eighty three letters were written to Zinwa by residents questioning the authority about Bulawayo’s water situation.
Is this going to work? Is this the first protest staged by residents? Definitely not, however, the crisis seems to be here to stay. Recently, BCC town clerk Christopher Dube told the local media that the city fathers have run out of ideas.
“We no longer have water in the city while consumption has increased. Residents have also resorted to buying storage tanks (bulk water containers) and whenever we shut supplies we do so because our reservoirs would have run dry,” he said.
What then happens when city fathers “run out of ideas”? Are they missing it somehow? Residents and city fathers recently clashed over devolution funds as BCC opted for road rehabilitation, while residents wanted the funds to be channelled to water-related projects.
Can this also be a reason why Bulawayo is enduring a water crisis? Is there any misplacement of funds and policy failure owing to the water woes? Experts highlighted that the city’s water crisis is man-made.
Speaking during a residents summit recently, Lerato Nare, a water resources expert with the National University of Science and Technology’s Institute of Development Studies, said flawed water management policies are the root cause for the crisis facing Bulawayo.
Nare slammed the current pricing model saying it favours the elite in the city to abuse water at the expense of the poor. “Water should be appropriately priced because it’s an economic good. BCC is failing to maintain infrastructure because of wrong pricing models resulting in under-pricing of water. The rich are abusing the under-priced water leading to unsustainable use of the resource.
“Strange enough you find that the elite in the eastern suburbs can disregard water rationing provisions and water their lawns and gardens using treated water knowing that they can pay whatever penalty is prescribed by the local authority,” Nare said.
The water expert said when a water shortage arises owing to infrastructural damage, the ordinary residents suffer the consequences as the elite can afford alternatives like drilling boreholes. “At the end, the water crisis becomes the poor’s burden and none of the elite’s business, “ he said. Nare added that it is not feasible to make borehole owners pay nominal fees whilst they are among bulk water users.
He said boreholes should be metred and owners made to pay bills frequently. “Water is not a private good so no one owns it. They (borehole owners) only own those holes they drilled, not the water. They should pay bills so that they also know how to serve the liquid,” Nare said.
An engineer who specialises in water works, Joel Hlabangana, said the crisis is man-made because the city is solely depending on rains while other local authorities have resorted to water harvesting. “It is time for our local authorities and residents to realise that water is one system and develop all the possible sources such as rainwater harvesting, ground water and surface. Councils must stop relying only on surface water which constitutes just five percent of the water cycles,” he said.
Hlabangana said engineers should calculate the possible yields from each of the proposed sources and devise strategies to save water. He said there should be transparency in terms of communicating about water issues in the city. “What is the state of Khami Dam? Where is the rain water going? What is happening at Gwayi catchment area? Residents need answers to this,” he said.
For resident Gracious Nyoni, the crisis is man-made due to improper use of funds. “BCC should just stop diverting funds meant for water-related projects. These funds should address the water situation not to finance other projects. Such situations result in dilapidated water infrastructure as well as lack of funds to acquire enough chemicals to treat water,” he said.
Khumbulani Maphosa, who is an activist and MIHR head, says Zinwa has a hand in the crisis faced in the city. “This has gone beyond the capacity of BCC because the council has been updating us on dam levels. If the dams remain low, what should the council do? Zinwa should be telling us why our dams are not filling up. Why are we going for weeks without water, yet we are having rains. What is happening at the catchment areas?” he quizzed.