Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, has been plunged into a crisis by an acute shortage of potable water after two out of three supply dams ran dry due to drought, while the city council failed to buy water purification chemicals owing to a shortage of foreign currency.
The Zimbabwe Independent senior reporter Tinashe Kairiza (TK) this week spoke to the city mayor, Herbert Gomba (HG, pictured), who said the municipality is running on a shoestring budget.
He also said there is no comprehensive plan to mobilise the US$6 million required to import water treatment chemicals that will ensure adequate supplies for the next three months. Below are the excerpts of the interview:
TK: This week council announced that it had to shut down operations at the Morton Jaffray Waterworks owing to inadequate treatment chemicals. How much money is required on a monthly basis to ensure is a consistent supply of treated water to residents?
HG: On average, we need at least US$3 million to procure chemicals that will last a month. However, if the Procurement Authority of Zimbabwe (Praz) approves our application for production of our own chemicals to happen at the plant, that will reduce the cost by US$1 million.
TK: We understand there is more to the water crisis than just a shortage of forex to buy purification chemicals. What are the other challenges causing these water cuts?
HG: It is basically due to inadequate chemicals, particularly chlorine gas. The challenge is that since the removal of the 1:1 we are now required to chase the interbank market for forex, meaning we needed ZW$40 million from residents to procure the US$3 million from the banks.
TK: The government this week announced it was taking over the Morton Jaffray plant. Is that true?
HG: Morton Jaffray is run by City of Harare. We have no communication to the effect that government has taken over the plant. You must remember that central government once transferred management of the plant to Zimbabwe National Water Authority (Zinwa) and you know what happened. Nationalising the plant will not bring the foreign currency which is required to procure treatment chemicals.
The ideal situation is to have US$9 million to buy three months’ supply of chemicals as cover for eventualities; that was what the Rhodesian government would do.
However, under the current circumstances, we only have foreign currency to buy chemicals that will last for only four days. Then after that, we have to start running around to mobilise the money needed to import treatment chemicals.
TK: This week, you announced that you had secured chemicals to last seven days. Going forward, what measures have you put in place to ensure that water supply returns to normalcy?
HG: We have bought chemicals for seven days and are waiting for government to transfer the ZW$37,4 million it promised after our requests. We are also building internal capacities to get more resources.TK: How is the ZW$37,4 million going to be utilised?
HG: It is yet to be transferred to our municipal account and its use is detailed in our request to the parent ministry. We need to do piping, metering and improve the purification capacity.
TK: In 2013, council received a US$144 million loan from China Export and Import Bank to fund the same tasks you are asking for more money. Can you explain how that money used?
HG: Only US$72 million from that US$144 million was used. The Chinese started raising issues around the non-payment of other government debts. It was also the case with that loan facility because it was guaranteed by the government.
Part of that money was used to refurbish Morton Jaffray, while some of it was channelled towards the procurement of vehicles. This was done by the commission which was running the city in June and July 2013.
TK: We understand that up to 60% of the water which the council treats is lost through leakages. What is being done to curb these leakages?
HG: We have sent our work programme to government for approvals. The work programme includes entering into agreements with the Chinese for a comprehensive project to do pipe replacement. As it stands, we are using internal resources to do it.
TK: There are some suburbs which have not been receiving water for over a decade now, what is council doing to ensure that potable water is supplied to those communities?
HG: Council is committed to supplying those suburbs with water, but that can only be done through rationalising water distribution and managing water demand.
TK: How has the re-introduction of the Zimbabwean dollar impacted on your operations, particularly in light of your import requirements?
HG: It has caused a lot of problems, particularly the removal of the 1:1 ratio and the multi-currency pricing regime. What it means is that we are now chasing the interbank market with limited resources from a price-controlled product such as water.
TK: There are a number of informal settlements sprouting across the city, thereby straining service delivery. What is council doing to regularise these illegal settlements?
HG: We have approached the High Court in terms of the law, seeking to remove some but, again, we will regularise where possible.TK: The Kunzvi Dam project has been on the cards for decades. What is stalling progress?
HG: The tender was awarded but nothing has been done yet. We need to expedite the construction of Kunzvi and Muda dams in order to ensure adequate supply of water. Unfortunately, it is Zinwa and the Ministry of Water who must do that. We can only remind them of the urgency of now.
TK: How much is required to finalise the project?
HG: Kunzvi needs US$450 million and Muda requires US$180 million, according to research done before by engineers.