HARARE is reeling from a serious water crisis as the city’s main sources of potable water have virtually dried up, with the only remaining source being so heavily polluted making it costly to purify at a time the local authority is buffeted by massive foreign currency shortages.
The city council is now seeking to have the crisis declared a national emergency so that urgent steps may be taken to address the calamity.
Lake Chivero, Harare’s main water source, which is normally above 85% full this time of the year, is now only 51,3% full, according to the latest Zimbabwe National Water Authority (Zinwa) figures released on Wednesday.
With temperatures set to soar during the hottest months, October and November, there are fears that water levels may plummet to a new low which may see the lake being decommissioned.
Zinwa’s water plan stipulates that reservoir transfers should be stopped when city dams decline to 20% full.
Two other dams which augment water supplies in the capital, Harava and Seke, have dried up, prompting council to decommission the Prince Edward Water Treatment Plant.
The two dams usually contribute 70 megalitres of water a day, 30 megalitres of which were dedicated to Chitungwiza and the remaining 40 megalitres supplied Mbare, Sunningdale and surrounding areas.
The main purification plant, Morton Jaffray Treatment Works — situated downstream of Manyame — has a capacity of 604 megalitres a day but is now pumping only about 100 megalitres against a requirement of about 1 200 megalitres a day.
The plant was on Monday shut down after the local authority ran out of water treatment chemicals. It was, however, reopened 24 hours later after government intervened with an emergency bailout, which was used to source chemicals enough only to last seven day.
According to Harare mayor Herbert Gomba, the unavailability of water treatment chemicals is currently the biggest short-term challenge besetting the city, mostly because the chemicals are imported at a hefty cost of US$3 million a month. Harare has been battling for regular foreign currency allocations from the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe to enable it to meet the demand.
“Our monthly requirement is US$3 million depending on our production. We have been getting that until about two to three months ago and for the past three months we did not receive the allocation. And the allocation is such that the council should pay for that forex component, by providing the equivalent in Zimbabwean dollars, so it is not like the RBZ is giving us but they are providing for forex on our Zimdollar,” Gomba said. He added that council has plans to establish its own water treatment chemical manufacturing plant and has made an application to the Procurement Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Praz) seeking permission to engage suitable contractors, but the tender board was yet to respond to the application.
“For now, we will have to rely on RBZ allocations to acquire the necessary chemicals until Praz approves our application to allow for production of those chemicals, which will reduce the cost by US$1 million. All we want is Praz to attend to our documents and we proceed to do work,” he said. The situation is worsened by the fact that City of Harare has a very thin revenue base as it collects a total of ZW$15 million per month on average, while requiring over ZW$30 million for water chemicals alone.
The city’s monthly wage bill is ZW$8 million, which is more than half the total revenue collected.The demand for water treatment chemicals is set to increase as the dry season drags on, which would imply that pollution levels in the lake would be increasing. Harare used to get chemical supplies from Zimphos, which has since discontinued production due to viability issues.
Gomba said the water crisis was being compounded by infrastructure challenges.“Harare has derelict and inadequate water infrastructure. Population has grown and we also serve satellite communities like Chitungwiza, Ruwa and Norton. For instance, the existing water and sewer reticulation system was established in the 1950s for only 30 000 people but Harare’s population has ballooned to over three million, without corresponding expansion efforts,” Gomba said.
“The city as a whole has an infrastructure deficit of over 50 years. So the capacity challenges we are facing now are results of expansion not done in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and the 2000s. The solutions sadly can never been instant; they are long term and generally require new water supply sources like Kunzvi Dam which have been on the cards for decades.”
In 2017, the City of Harare unveiled a US$2,9 billion deal with a Singaporean firm, Neoparagon, which was meant to go towards the construction of three dams, namely Kunzvi, Musami and Muda under a 30-year Built, Operate and Transfer partnership, but it came to naught due to bureaucratic wrangling between the local authority and the government.
The construction of the three dams has been in the pipeline for decades and is expected to ease the city’s acute water shortage, but stakeholders have been quick to condemn the deal and discouraging council from pursuing it, saying it is akin to mortgaging the water division to a foreign private company.
Council also entered into a US$144,4 million water loan deal with the Export and Import Bank of China (EximBank) for water and sewer plant refurbishments but eyebrows were raised when part of it was diverted to luxury vehicles for municipal bosses.
Harare water is heavily polluted and, even on the few occasions that it is pumped into homes, residents have no confidence drinking it. Gomba has previously considered the use of long distance circulation equipment (Solarbee) technology to clean the water in-lake.
It involves the use of solar-powered equipment which can turn an area of 14 hectares of water at one given time in the lake, thereby helping to oxygenate it, allowing for conditions conducive for aquatic life while at the same time preventing growth of algae.
It is commonly used in the US and has a 90-95% success rate. Controlling algal blooms solves many issues such as bad taste and odour in drinking water, low dissolved oxygen, prevents fish kills and increases the aesthetic value of the water body, according to the website of a leading US water treatment solutions firm, Lenntech.
In simpler terms, algal blooms are photosynthetic plant-like organisms and usually aquatic, but do not have true roots, stems, leaves, vascular tissue and have simple reproductive structures.
The technology is envisaged to reduce the cost of treating Harare water to US$300 000 a week.In addition to algae, the city’s water is polluted with industrial waste.