By Tonderai Kwidini
A 20-LITRE bucket in hand, Abigail Shonhiwa ponders the stretch ahead in her journey to the next watering hole, a distance of about seven kilometres.
Her suburb has been facing recurrent water shortages since 2000, in part because it is built on a plateau in the Zimbabwean capital, Harare.
The ageing treatment plant at the Morton Jaffray Water Works, located about 20 kilometres outside of the city, has difficulty building up enough pressure to push the water through to the tap at Shonhiwa’s house.
The British colonial administration put the water works infrastructure in place several decades ago, and the current government has not adequately maintained or replaced the equipment. Shonhiwa can say little about the Water Act of 1998, which the government introduced in an effort to ensure that all its citizens would have sufficient access to water.
“I know nothing about that. All I know is that Zinwa is now in charge of water affairs,” Shonhiwa told IPS with an expression of resignation as she set out on the remainder of her journey.
Zinwa (Zimbabwe National Water Authority), a parastatal organisation, is tasked with managing the country’s water affairs. It was set up in terms of the Zimbabwe National Water Authority Act at the same time as the Water Act of 1998 was passed by parliament.
The two Acts together replaced an earlier Water Act of 1976, because government wanted to provide the people of Zimbabwe with more equitable access to water. At the Zambezi Basinwide Stakeholders Forum held in the resort town of Victoria Falls in northern Zimbabwe last month, the Minister of Water Resources and Infrastructural Development, Munacho Mutezo, said that the previous legislation had made water provision and management an impossible task — and that broader consultation was needed in this regard.
In terms of the two Acts of 1998, Zinwa would take over the running of water affairs and infrastructure at all levels of government, including those of municipal authorities. The parastatal was to assume responsibility for the construction and maintenance of dams, for all systems required to ensure the distribution of water and for billing operations.
“The main purpose of the creation of Zinwa was to make water available to all the people throughout the country, as previously some people in the rural areas were still using water from unprotected sources like rivers. Now there are boreholes and dams almost everywhere,” Mutezo told delegates at the Victoria Falls conference.
However, certain water experts have a different viewpoint on the way water resources are being managed in Zimbabwe. In a 2006 paper titled “Water sector reforms in Zimbabwe”, Hodson Makurira and Menard Mugumo acknowledged that “Although Zimbabwe has the legal framework for integrated water management, the situation on the ground does not reflect the policy.” The process of taking over the various water authorities has been slow and fraught with controversy.
Zinwa was supposed to ensure that water was affordable and accessible even to the poorest communities in the country; yet where it has taken over, rates have increased ten-fold, taps run dry, and sewage and water pumps burst regularly — while waterborne diseases have become part of urban life. To date, the agency has not built a single dam, while three major dams supplying water in the southern region of the country were decommissioned after drying up.
Zinwa has met with grim resistance from residents of Harare since it assumed control of water management in the capital — also Zimbabwe’s largest city. The Combined Harare Residents Association (CHRA) says there is no difference between the Water Acts of 1927 and 1976 and that of 1998. “This talk about introducing pieces of legislation aimed at improving water availability is bar talk,” said Jabusile Shumba, CHRA senior programmes and advocacy officer. “The coming in of these new laws has actually worsened the problem of water shortages, particularly the vesting of all water powers in the hands of Zinwa. In all fairness, the coming in of Zinwa heralded a new era — that of water shortages.”
The distressing experiences in Harare have caused residents of other towns and cities to oppose Zinwa’s bids to take over water management in their respective areas. For example in Gwanda, about 125 km south of Bulawayo, mayor Thandeko Zinti Mnkandla says his municipality will not hand over its sewer reticulation system to Zinwa because of that organisation’s reputation for incompetence.
Some commentators speculate that the national government has insisted on turning over water management in urban areas to a bungling parastatal because the cities and towns tend to support the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
“There is no hope for the future. We don’t really know what’s happening at Zinwa,” MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa told IPS. “Maybe the parent ministry knows, but the past two years have been appalling.”
Zinwa often attempts to defend itself by saying that it does not have enough foreign currency to purchase essential water equipment. A Zinwa official who spoke to IPS on condition of anonymity explained: “We have been bashed left, right and centre. People blame us for the water shortages, but we have only been operational for less than two years.
“There is no money to finance major projects such as the rehabilitation of water works, which we inherited in obsolete state.”
The past few years have seen a deepening crisis in Zimbabwe, where government has come under fire for economic mismanagement and widespread human rights abuse. — IPS.