DADIRAI Kanengoni wakes up daily at 4:30am, straps her six-month old baby on her back and walks for about a quarter of a kilometre to join hundreds of
other women fetching water from unprotected wells in the sprawling high density suburb of Mabvuku, Harare.
Kanengoni stays in an area in the suburb commonly known as Kugarika Kushinga Housing Cooperative near the country’s largest cement manufacturing company, Circle Cement. The area has gone for more than 10 months without tap water thanks to the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (Zinwa)’s operational deficiencies and incompetence.
Water cuts in some parts of Mabvuku and Tafara have become a way of life since Zinwa took over the supply of potable water in the capital and is affecting close to 50 000 residents.
The problem has forced residents to resort to fetching water from unprotected wells, exposing the people to waterborne diseases such as diarrhoea and cholera. The Ministry of Health and Child Welfare recently said at least 10 people from Mabvuku and Tafara had died from diarrhoea last month. The deaths were attributed to water cuts.
“My day starts at 4.30am. I go to a nearby well to fill my jars with water and start my napkin laundry, before preparing to go to work,” Kanengoni said. “The water crisis in Mabvuku is unbearable. We don’t understand what Zinwa is doing to improve the situation.”
She said Zinwa and the government must do something to end the problem.
Last week, Health minister, David Parirenyatwa, came face to face with the water crisis when he visited the two suburbs to “assess” the diarrhoea outbreak and water situation in the townships.
Parirenyatwa revealed that there were 400 diarrhoea cases reported in Mabvuku and Tafara and called on Zinwa and the Harare City Council to normalise the supply of portable water.
The council has since pledged to sink 14 boreholes in the two suburbs to ease the water shortages. But residents say nothing has happened since the high-profile ministerial visit last week.
Despite the inability by Zinwa to supply water, especially to the people of Kugarika Kushinga Housing Cooperative, the residents continue to receive monthly bills from the authority.
“Why are we being compelled to pay for a service we last got 10 months ago?” asked Ivy Chinavamwe. “This is robbery. We should pay for water we are using. Zinwa has let residents down and I suggest that the council takes water supplies in Harare.”
According to Chinavamwe, Zinwa officials last month told residents that the outbreak of diarrhoea was a result of using water from unprotected wells close to blocked sewerage pipes.
“While the Zinwa explanation is sound, where do they think we will get water for domestic use if they are not supplying it? We go to the same contaminated wells,” she said.
A Zinwa spokesperson told the Zimbabwe Independent that water supplies in both Mabvuku and Tafara was expected to “greatly” improve in the coming weeks.
“We have also since commenced repairing the sewer system in Mabvuku and water has started running from the taps although there are exceptional cases where some parts of Mabvuku and Tafara have no water,” said the spokesperson.
Zinwa took over bulk water management from council in December 2006 and it has not been able to alleviate the water crisis in the capital.
Residents of Mabvuku and Harare have been facing water problems since 1998, but the situation worsened when Zinwa took over.
The Minister of Water Resources and Infrastructural Development Munacho Mutezo this week said water cuts in some areas in the capital were a result of the shortage of water treatment chemicals needed due to heavy rains experienced in the country since December.
MDC Local Government spokesperson Trudy Stevenson said Mutezo should resign because Zinwa had failed the nation by failing to provide safe water to most areas in Harare.
“Not only are residents succumbing to water-borne diseases, but even the clinics have been unable to assist the sick because of the water crisis,” Stevenson said.
“Hatcliffe Clinic reported this week that they have not had water for over a week, and although they had been sent a bowser, they could not fill it at the nearby borehole because the City of Harare had no diesel to put in the tractor to tow the bowser.”
Stevenson added that it was fortunate that the city’s director of Health, Stanley Mungofa, realised the seriousness of the situation when he was alerted, and organised some plastic containers of water for Hatcliffe Clinic.