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Water: Latest Weapon for Local Politicians

POLITICIANS are proverbially known to stoop very low in achieving their own goals the world over. They believe that the means justifies the ends.

But could Zimbabwean politicians use water or the absence of it to gain political mileage?


Political observers reckon there could be a plot to use water as an electoral drawing card judging by the fiasco that has ensued since the signing of the global political agreement between rivals President Robert Mugabe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and his deputy Arthur Mutambara.

The observers believe that Zanu PF and the two MDC formations could use water as an electoral gimmick to win the hearts of a disgruntled electorate bearing the brunt of water shortages daily.

For instance, residents of Harare’s Greendale, Mabvuku and Tafara have gone for years without water.

Should water supplies be restored in such a constituency, it could pacify a restive electorate, observers believe.

If the water situation is not resolved come election time, the analysts said the two MDC formations would have played into the hands of their political foe, Zanu PF, which is waiting patiently for the opposition’s failure in this area and simply highlights their ineptitude to the urban voters.

Zanu PF lost the support of urban Zimbabweans owing to an economic crisis and general misrule.

Analysts say that the battle for control of the city’s water could get messy as more parties seek to gain credit or to discredit rivals for any water situation by election time.

Water Resources Minister Sam Sipepa Nkomo also reckons there is a looming political battle for water. He told Bulawayo residents recently that there could be a war for the precious liquid.

“What I said was that water is a precious liquid as much as the petrol or diesel or oil is a precious liquid and I said that if there was going to be another world war it would not be fought on the basis of oil — such as the Iraqi war — the war would be fought over water,” Nkomo said. “The water resource is getting scarcer and scarcer in the world, and as you might know, only about 2,5% of the world’s water is usable for human consumption. Ninety-six percent is salt so it cannot be used and so it is a scarce resource that we need to manage for mutual benefit of all citizens of the world and if it is mismanaged, the next war will be about water.”

Nkomo has already clashed with Harare Mayor Muchadeyi Masunda over his decision to cut off water supplies to non-paying residents. He ordered Masunda not to cut off supplies saying it would be a violation of the people’s rights.

But analysts say the clash could be just a tip of the iceberg saying Nkomo exercised his powers to score political points and seek relevance.

Masunda argues that residents should settle bills whether they get water supplies or not. He says he has not personally defaulted on water bills although he has not received supplies for years.

Harare residents are angry with the city for exorbitant bills.

Observers say since the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (Zinwa) — who had until recently been given extra judicial powers to provide Zimbabweans with water ran the services into the sewers — the city practically inherited a host of stinky problems.

Under Zinwa management 4 000 Zimbabweans succumbed to a waterborne and preventable cholera disease, a scary number in modern times, further evidence proponents of the school of thought say shows how important the commodity is.

After firing Harare Mayor Elias Mudzuri and transferring water management and household distribution to Zinwa, Local Government, Urban and Rural Development Minister Ignatius Chombo has taken a back seat, but still meets with Nkomo and Zinwa for what the government official describes as “very good meetings” to create a rapport with all players.

According to Nkomo, Zinwa overstepped its mandate.

He says Zinwa’s responsibility is not delivering water to households particularly in the major urban areas, cities and towns.

Rather Zinwa’s job is to deliver bulk raw water to the urban authorities and take a back seat while municipalities will then take the raw water, purify it and distribute it to households.

“Now that’s its core business — except in the other smaller towns, growth points where Zinwa does deliver clear water,” Sipepa says.

Nkomo — appointed into office on an MDC-T ticket — says his ministry administers the Water Act as well as the Zinwa Act. Basically that means Nkomo is the only government official empowered by two long Acts to demand attention on water matters.

He says: “The Water Act is required to make sure that there is water for every citizen in Zimbabwe and uses Zinwa as its arm for achieving that objective.”

“Zinwa can now revert to doing what it knows best, what the Zinwa Act actually requires it to do — that’s to deliver bulk raw water to local authorities and that’s what they will continue to do. And they will continue to deliver clear water to growth points and to rural areas and so forth, that’s what it is going to do.”

The city or urban authorities, according to Nkomo, are the ones who call the shots under his supervision.
Harare’s water problems will persist until government constructs Kunzvi Dam and raise financial resources to repair plant and treatment facilities.

According to a paper compiled recently by Nkomo, the water crisis was a result of years of absence of funding to recapitalise and failure to expand capacity despite evidence that the urban population was growing at what he described as an “alarming state.”

Harare needs 1 200 megalitres of water daily, the Morton Jaffrey plant has a maximum capacity of up to 614 megalitres daily, 50% less of the capital’s requirements.

The plant is also not operating in full capacity and currently produces 400-500 megalitres per day, less than half of Harare’s demands.

Nkomo said over 40% of the city’s gross clear water produced does not find its way to the consumers limiting volumes supplied.

Water from Chivero and Manyame dams is not helping, Nkomo said, adding that the water is either of poor quality or is “heavily polluted with sewerage and industrial waste”.

Chris Muronzi

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