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New water strategies urged to reduce crisis in Harare

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GREEN NGO Environment Africa (E Africa) believes there is a solution to Harare’s water crisis if an integrated water management initiative to reduce water usage and pollution is adopted.

Harare’s water problems have been building up for some time. Daily consumers of Harare’s water now number over three million. Unplanned settlements and increasing pollution have stretched the city’s resources.

The NGO said traditional solutions have focused on large interventions such as construction of a new dam – but the money and the resources are simply not there and plans to address the problem have been overshadowed by all the other crises confronting Zimbabwe.

At the beginning of the month Harare was gripped by a serious water crisis. Daily demand of 700 megalitres a day has far overtaken the city’s pumping capacity of 580 megalitres. Areas east of the city, which are highest and furthest from the pumping stations, went for extended periods without water.

Disrupted supplies and low pressure are likely to spread in all areas of greater Harare.

The solution being proposed by E Africa has been successfully implemented in many cities around the world. A good example cited is Durban, South Africa, where through an integrated approach, the city managed to supply an additional 600 000 households without having to build a dam – an expensive option for Harare. The city provided each household with a plastic water tank which was trickle-supplied at night during periods of low water usage.

The NGO said the city managed to meet its commitment to supply the additional households. Peak demand was spread because more water was now being used at night. This avoided the build up of pressure and consequent leakage in the system.

Vandalism of the water system was reduced because of increased public access to water. The problem became the solution. In working towards a similar solution for Harare, industry in particular can make significant interventions by assisting the city manage pressure build ups and consequent leakage, spread peak demand and reduce overall consumption and wastage of water.

Phillip Chigumira, MD of Cairns Foods, sees immediate economic benefits in reducing the company’s water consumption.

“We reduced our water consumption by recycling it within the plant and immediately were able to reduce coal consumption also,” Chigumira said.

“When we sent heated water down the drain we were also wasting expensive energy,” he said.

Cafca has reduced water consumption by 50% with basic good housekeeping measures. Industry has started forming clusters in Msasa, Graniteside, Ardbennie, Southerton and Workington where coordinated efforts are made to reduce consumption and effluent flows and to protect natural and man-made water systems. Harare and major industrialists have asked E Africa to encourage cooperation. To this end, a small Water Taskforce has been formed representing different interests.

With the guidance of the Water Taskforce E Africa has commenced five initiatives.

The first is to protect the Cleveland Dam catchment area. Harare is built on the Mukuvisi River which flows from the Cleveland Dam catchment area. Cleveland Dam was built in 1912 as Harare’s first water supply. The surrounding catchment area is the largest and oldest protected area in Harare’s limits and the most vital. The area is now being attacked by tree cutting, sand mining and other destructive practices.

An attempt to protect the area by leasing it to a private game park has largely failed, with most of the land placed in the care of the game park having been abandoned.

A report just out from the WWF and World Bank, which surveyed 105 cities in rich and poor nations, states that woodlands are vital to the supply of clean water and that cities could slash the cost of supplying clean, safe drinking water simply by protecting and expanding nearby forests.

E Africa is now desperate to protect the Cleveland Dam catchment area as a healthy ecosystem and public amenity, zoned for different low impact uses. Every year in September, along with the rest of the world, Zimbabwe engages in clean up days, organised by E Africa. This year in Harare, the focus was on the Mukuvisi River.

Residents and industry provided an extraordinary demonstration of commitment to a cleaner environment by removing literally tonnes of solid waste from the river banks, including car wrecks, scrap metal, paper and plastic.

“This has inspired ongoing efforts by industry and community groups with the long- term goal of restoring the river to a healthy ecosystem and a pleasant public amenity, a green belt extending right through the city,” the NGO said.

Industrial initiatives to reduce water use and pollution are being encouraged with a number of ‘champions’ already emerging. Some companies have reduced their own water consumption by up to 50% and have recorded economic gains in the process.

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