MOST companies in Bulawayo have been forced to either retrench workers or scale down operations because of the crippling water shortage in the city.
A recent survey by the Zimbabwe Investment Authority (ZIA), a government investment body, revealed that Bulawayo companies are operating below 40% of their capacity because of the water crisis.
The survey found that although the city was losing investment opportunities because of the other economic problems water shortages were the main reason why investors continue to shun the city as an investment destination.
Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce (ZNCC) national vice president, Obert Sibanda, said the situation in the city was now desperate as many companies were now considering relocating to other areas.
“Most companies, especially those in the manufacturing and construction sectors, are scaling down operations due to water shortages while some have retrenched their workers,” said Sibanda who is also the chief executive officer of Reliance Holdings, a construction company based in Bulawayo. “The situation is deteriorating and there is no solution in sight.”
Bulawayo, the hub of economic activity in the southern half of the country, has battled with perennial water problems for more than two decades. The Matabeleland Zambezi Water Project (MZWP) which the business community had pinned their hopes on has failed to take off due to lack of funding.
Analysts say judging by the progress so far, it is highly unlikely that the project will be completed any time soon.
A few weeks ago a Chinese company, Chinese International Water Electrical (CIWE), contracted by the government to construct the Gwayi-Shangani Dam pulled out after the government reneged on contractual agreements.
Gwayi-Shangani Dam is the main component of the MZWP project which involves the construction of a 450km pipeline to bring water to Bulawayo. The project was initially proposed as far back as 1912.
“The water crisis in Bulawayo will continue for as long as government does not give enough funding. Companies will continue to suffer and very soon many people will lose their jobs,” said a senior official in the Bulawayo city council.
“Water shortage is one of the reasons why Bulawayo is not developing at the moment. Local investors continue to shun the city because of the water shortages.”
CIWE also pulled out of a contract to lay a 32km pipeline linking Mtshabezi Dam to Umzingwane Dam, a short-term solution to the biting water crisis.
National Blankets managing director, Jeremy Musgrave, said the water shortages have crippled their operations forcing the company to reduce its working hours. This means less productivity.
“The city’s water situation has crippled our operations and sometimes we reduce the number of our working hours forcing our workers to go home because there will be no work for them to do” said Musgrave.
Delta Corporation corporate affairs manager, George Mutendadzamera, said the critical water shortages in Bulawayo had forced the company to sometimes stop production.
“Municipal water is not available in Bulawayo to make some of our products like coke. We can’t use borehole water to make coke hence we are on several occasions forced to stop production because of lack of water,” said Mutendadzamera.
A local consortium of private companies in the city recently made an ambitious proposal to help the industrial areas that are currently receiving water three times a week. Confederation of Zimbabwe Industry (CZI) board member and Matabeleland Chamber of Industry (MCI) chairman, Dumisani Sibanda said companies were also having weekly meetings with the Bulawayo City Council to map the way forward regarding the water shortages in a bid to avert collapse of some companies.
“Most companies affected by the water shortages in Bulawayo have come together and are meeting the city council officials every week to map the way forward regarding water shortages so that they can keep production going,” said Sibanda. Bulawayo has five supply dams but three of them have already been decommissioned because of low water levels.
The city consumes 150 000 cubic metres of water per day but according to the city council only 69 000 cubic metres are currently being pumped per day. Boreholes which have been providing the city’s water needs have dried up. While huge companies are scaling down, the crisis has given birth to a new form of businesses. Enterprising youths are now selling water to desperate resident. Ten litres of water cost about $50 000. While this might have created a source of income for some desperate people, the real drivers of the economy, which is the productive sector, continues to take a battering from the crisis.
Analysts say the only way out of the crisis is for government to complete the Zambezi water project. The problem though is that the cost of the project has since ballooned to US$600 million — a figure way beyond government’s means.