Harare water woes: Case of system failure

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IT is nearly midnight and seven-year-old Nelson Dara (not his real name) should be in deep slumber so that he wakes up fresh and ready for another day at school.

Report by Wongai Zhangazha

But the young lad is far from being asleep.

Nelson is actually sitting on a 25-litre plastic container in a long queue at the Dzivaresekwa municipal office patiently awaiting his turn to fetch water for domestic use from a borehole. He is just one of several visibly tired and sleepy children in the sluggish queue.
After another hour, which seems an eternity for him, it is finally nearly his turn so he dashes home close by to call his parents so they can come and fill the family containers with the precious but scarce liquid.

This is increasingly the plight of children in most of the country’s high-density suburbs parched by a severe water crisis whose solution remains elusive.

Despite dry taps for more than six months in most suburbs around Harare, many residents were recently issued summons and letters of final demand from council. Some risk even having their properties attached and auctioned.

While council has, with increasing vigour, set its debt collection machinery on hard-up residents, little has been done to improve the situation which in some cases is actually deteriorating.

To compound residents’ plight, some councillors have been accused of corruptly amassing personal wealth instead of fulfilling their public mandate of serving communities. The MDC-T national executive recently expelled 12 councillors from various cities for allegedly lining their pockets through corruption, while others were due to be reprimanded.

The United Nations’ Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Unocha) has warned that Zimbabwe’s humanitarian situation remains in a state of fragile stability as a result of challenges of infrastructural degradation in the basic sectors of water, sanitation and health.

On its website Unocha says the humanitarian situation required “a massive financial investment” before the alarms developed into emergencies. The body also warns that about half of Zimbabwe’s estimated 13 million people could be drinking water from unprotected sources and living in unhygienic conditions.

The country, whose social services have collapsed, continues to battle water-borne diseases, namely typhoid and dysentery, mainly attributed to erratic water supplies, poor hygiene practices and inadequate sanitation.

Unocha further warns that cases of water-borne diseases could multiply with the onset of the rainy season if authorities do not address current daunting challenges.

According to the monthly Unocha bulletin for September, a typhoid outbreak was highly concentrated in Chitungwiza while dysentery killed 19 people between January and September this year, also recently affecting 206 pupils and staff at Chishawasha Secondary School in Mashonaland East.

A few years ago a cholera outbreak killed over 4 000 people in Zimbabwe.

About 33% of the country’s population has no toilet facilities and use open spaces, with roughly 1% of these are urban dwellers.

Consequently, chances of meeting the much-vaunted Millennium Development Goals target on water, sanitation and hygiene are virtually non-existent. Current investments in sanitation and hygiene are said to be nowhere close to the estimated requirements of around US$800 million per annum.

Fed up with the water crisis in their suburbs, which poses a serious health threat, about 200 Harare residents demonstrated at Town House on Tuesday demanding an end to the city’s water woes.

Harare Residents Trust director Precious Shumba said residents from various high-density areas were angered by the high water bills they are receiving despite going without a drop of tap water for months.
“Residents are saying enough is enough,” said Shumba.

“They have been lied to by the councillors who want to make themselves relevant as their terms are about to end yet they never considered their plight seriously while in office. There has also been no refuse collection in their areas yet they (council) demand money.”

Most residents in high-density areas now depend on non-governmental organisations for water supplies as council fails to deliver.
Harare deputy mayor Emmanuel Chiroto said council has written off debts in some parts of the city because they were not receiving any services.

“We had to write off bills for areas like Hatcliff Extension because the area does not have water at all and refuse has never been collected,” said Chiroto. “Our cars don’t even go there because there are no proper roads. However, there are areas that have not had water for some time now but receive fixed water charges. These are for maintenance of the infrastructure.

“But these fixed charges should not be high. I received the residents’ petition and we are going to sit down together with the mayor and Town Clerk to discuss the issues.”

Last week Finance minister Tendai Biti told a parliamentary pre-budget seminar in Victoria Falls that Zimbabwe required about US$4,2 billion to restore and build new water and sanitation facilities.

This is a herculean task given that Zimbabwe’s 2012 budget was in July revised from US$ 4 billion to US$3,6 billion.

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