WITH a huge pile of dirty clothes and unwashed plates heaped at the back of the house, Eva Mandundu (64), who stays in Mbare with her eight grandchildren, has the unenviable task of managing the little water she has.
She has to ensure it is enough for her to clean the house, flush the toilet, do her laundry, wash the plates and tackle any other tasks that require the precious liquid — including bathing.
She only has three, 20-litre buckets for household use, but this is not a temporary problem for Mandundu: she has had to endure water shortages for almost a decade.
“If we are lucky, our water supply is restored at low pressure at midnight when we are fast asleep. In most cases the taps run dry after a few hours, so if you fail to fill your buckets and other containers you have a problem,” she says.
“Sometimes we go for two days without a drop of water. So whatever we collect we have to use extremely wisely because it won’t take you far. After washing selected clothes and plates we use the same water for flushing the toilet. We have also learnt to use as little water as possible even for flushing the toilet. There is always the risk of contracting diarrhoeal disease due to the scarcity of water which severely compromises domestic hygiene.”
Looking visibly dejected and weary, Mandundu who has lived in Mbare’s National suburb for more than 10 years says she feels betrayed by government and the Harare City Council who have failed to ensure residents get a constant water supplies which is one of the most basic of necessities.
Like Mandundu, all other residents in the populous high-density suburb lead similar lives when it comes to water, making them prone to water borne diseases.
The water problem is however not limited to Mbare as many other low-density suburbs of Harare and other towns have endured many years of punitive water shortages.
While there is a similar problem in the city’s more affluent suburbs, the majority of residents in the leafy suburbs are better off as they have the means to drill boreholes or buy bulk water.
In some areas like Mabvuku and Tafara, a significant number of residents are depending on unsafe shallow wells as until recently they had gone for close to a decade without water.
For Dania Makona of St Mary’s in Harare’s dormitory town of Chitungwiza, water comes once every 10 days. “I try as much as I can, but I cannot use the water sparingly enough for it to last 10 days, so I’m forced to look for more from unsafe sources dotted around the suburb,” says Makona.
“It is a difficult situation, particularly for the women who mostly bear the brunt of looking for the water and carrying it in heavy buckets.”
Makona is alive to the dangers of collecting water from unprotected shallow wells, having witnessed the tragic effects of the cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe in 2008, with the World Health Organisation reporting 11 735 cholera cases that claimed 484 lives.
A severe potable water shortage was one of the major drivers of the outbreak.
On the brighter side though, the dark chapter attracted donor attention with countries such as Australia, Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, Sweden and United Kingdom injecting aid under the Multi-Donor Trust Fund for Zimbabwe (Zimfund), which is being administered by the African Development Bank (AFDB) to develop water and sewer reticulation infrastructure.
The donor countries also helped drill and rehabilitate boreholes in high-density areas during and shortly after the cholera outbreak to help curb the disease.
So far US$145,5 million has been mobilised to fund infrastructural projects in the country since May 2010. The fund has become a major hope for people like Mandundu and Makona, who dream of having regular access to safe, running water.
But there is light at the end of the tunnel; Mandundu and Makona’s water woes may be coming to an end or, at the very least, easing.
During a recent tour of Prince Edward, Morton Jeffrey, Firle and Zengeza Sewage Treatment Plant, Zimfund manager Emmanuel Nzabanita said the first phase of the Urgent Water Supply and Sanitation and Rehabilitation Project was complete.
Funded to the tune of US$43,6 million, it has resulted in an improvement in the water and sewer reticulation system.
Due to the revamping, Prince Edward plant is now producing 69 megalitres from 60 megalitres per day.
At Morton Jeffrey plant, AFBD repaired five pumps by installing new filter valves while nine additional pumps are being rehabilitated under the US$144 million loan facility from China Afrexim bank. Morton Jeffrey is currently pumping out 500 mega litres a day against its maximum capacity of 614 mega litres.
According to the Harare City Council’s water department, most pumping plants had outlived their economic life span by 15 years, highlighting how the nation is paying for lack of investment in critical infrastructure.
Acting Senior Superintendent at Firle Sewage Treatment John Chiradza said the plant was the biggest in Harare with a design load of 144 million litres, but was currently treating 125 megalitres a day, but the rehabilitation work would improve output.
“We had a problem of water, (but) we appreciate work done by AFBD. The bank revamped gate valves and the de-sludging of sewer ponds. It also rehabilitated unit 1 and 2 which can treat 36 mega litres of water. The units were not operating but are now back on board,” he said.
Government is now looking at bringing in a number of investors to construct the long-awaited Kunzvi Dam, believed to be the panacea to the capital’s water shortages.
Despite the intervention by the AFDB there is still a lot to be done by the city fathers to address leakages between the treatment plant to the end user which account for 60% of Harare’s treated water.
“As CHRA (Combined Harare Residents Association) we applaud what AFDB has done but the question is: What is the City of Harare doing to improve the water supply to residents?” Simbarashe Moyo, chairperson of CHRA said. “It seems we have a serious dependency syndrome. The residents of Tafara and Mabvuku still experience water shortages,” he said.
While water problems in Chitungwiza and Harare will continue given government’s failure to construct dams or provide funds to upgrade water and sewer reticulation systems, the work Zimfund is carrying out through the AFDB has given many residents hope that the situation will improve significantly.