CHIPA GONDITII/DAVISON MUPETI
It’s 160C at 3am in Harare. It is a temperature that cannot be trumped up by any amount of masculinity or machismo; and it is also a temperature that Constance Nyangu has to bear every morning as she waits at the communal borehole for her turn to fill up her containers with some water.
Such practices of going to fetch water at the communal borehole have traditionally been associated with the rural areas, but with the country now facing serious water shortages, urban dwellers have not been spared this fate despite having taps in their homes connected to the national water reticulation system.
Water supplies in many cities and towns in the country are dwindling, while local authorities face additional challenges of shortages of chemicals and broken down pipes and pumps.
Nowadays a tap in a house in the capital city of Harare is now a relic from the old days when people had the luxury of potable water; a luxury which has been replaced by grown up people like Constance in the high density suburb of Chitungwiza crowding around the borehole for water.
“I simply do not have a choice; I have two children both girls, one is three and the other is only a six-month-old son. I am the only one who is eligible to fetch water in my family. My husband works the night shift as a security guard so the onus is on me to be the water provider in my family,”
“I usually wake up at 3am to join the borehole queue because you see in Chitungwiza there are a lot of families and they face the same water problem that l do so you even find that when l get here at the borehole in the morning there is already a long line of people awaiting their turn. By the time it’s my turn it will be around 6-7am depending on the day,” she said.
The fetching of water at the communal taps is not without controversy and fears; fights are a common occurrence as the “lazy ones” who try jumping the queue are met with vicious blows from those who would have been in the queue for hours.
The biggest fear for Constance though is contracting the deadly Covid-19 virus, with no sanitisers or social distancing practised in the queues it only seems like a game of Russian roulette with the virus.
“l certainly fear contracting the virus because if l do who is going to take care of my children? As you can see for yourself most people here are not even wearing masks but they know there is corona out there so l think the government should just do something about the water crisis so that we do not have to live like this,” said a tearful Constance.
The capital city of Harare has a demand of about 1,2 billion litres of water per day, yet the city is only pumping an average of 170 million litres; this leaves most suburbs getting access to water only one day in a fortnight and in some cases once a month.
In most of the low-density suburbs, private companies are cashing in with home deliveries, but only for the few who can afford it.
Those who sell the water in the low income areas have come to be known as “water barons”. Water is being sold at US$1 per 10 buckets, which is out of the reach of many people in Zimbabwe.
One of the numerous cash barons in Harare is Rueben Chikanda who can be found around Chitungwiza. At 22, he has already made his fortune by selling water.
“These tough economic times have taught me to be vigilant, l cannot just sit at home doing nothing so that is why I ventured into selling water as a business; it was difficult at first but l made it,” Chikanda said.
Chikanda lives in Seke district where he has since drilled two boreholes at his plot. He loads the water into huge bowsers in the back of two of his 12-tonne trucks to be sold in the high density suburbs.
Harare Residents Trust president Precious Shumba said the water crisis in the city had reached catastrophic proportions and that the city council had no clue on how to manage the situation.
“It is evident that the City of Harare is overwhelmed with the situation and has no clue of what to do. Most suburbs of Harare, around 70%, have not had water for the past five days.
The situation is worsening. There is overcrowding at community boreholes. Under the Covid-19 lockdown regulations, social distancing, regular washing of hands with running water or use of sanitizers is a top priority,
“However, this is proving to be difficult and nearly impossible to achieve due to widespread and unending water shortages. The Harare Residents Trust has consistently shared basic Covid-19 prevention measures, but the water shortages and the increasing desperation among residents is drowning our awareness raising,” Shumba said.
Zimbabwe’s second largest city Bulawayo has not been spared from the water shortages; it has recorded a second diarrhoea outbreak within four months mainly attributed to the ongoing water crisis.
The cumulative figures for typhoid as of October 4 were 717 cases and 10 deaths, while for diarrhoea the cumulative figures were 239 858 cases and 115 deaths, across all provinces.
The acute water shortages have forced the Bulawayo City Council to try to provide water to only a few suburbs 12 hours per day once a week.
Reports in Bulawayo’s Umguza District indicate that the suburb which has around 2 000 households is relying on one manual borehole for water. Some residents have even resorted to digging open wells close to a sewage infested stream, popularly known as Phekiwe. The residents then use the water from the wells to water their gardens, wash clothes and even their utensils so as to save the little water which they get from the single borehole for drinking and cooking..
Deputy Minister of Lands, Water and Agriculture Douglas Karoro said last month in a ministerial statement in the Senate on the water situation throughout the country that most cities have water which can last them only for less than a year.
“Urban water supply in most cities is facing additional challenges due to limited conveyance, pumping and treatment capacities, shortage of chemicals as well as power outages,” Karoro said.
For the City of Harare, Karoro said it had not been abstracting water from Manyame Dam for the past 10 years due to a broken-down lift pump at Morton Jaffray until December 2019 when the government intervened.
“The ministry is concerned that high water losses in most of the local authorities is due to leakages from old distribution systems. The losses range between 40% and 60% for most authorities and we would implore respective local authorities to address this issue urgently,” he said.
Karoro said water sources in Bulawayo were 22% full, which can only last 11 months.
“When the government intervened in March 2020, Bulawayo was pumping three megalitres a day from Nyamandlovu Aquifer. Through the government support, an additional seven megalitres per day was yielded from Nyamandlovu Aquifer to add to Bulawayo’s demand of 155 megalitres per day. The intervention added another 10 megalitres per day.” He said government plans to increase raw water pumping from Insiza and Inyankuni Dams were underway.
He said areas that have relatively safe water supply levels include Greater Harare whose sources are left with 18 months of water supply at 800 megalitres per day.
“There is a need for rehabilitation of the distribution network to minimise losses which are up to 60%. There is also a need to improve management of effluent discharges into the water sources estimated at 145 megalitres per day.”
In an interview with this publication Community Water Alliance (CWA) national coordinator Hardlife Mudzingwa said the serious water shortages in the country were scuppering Covid-19 prevention protocols and that advocacy efforts were currently under way to improve the water situation in the country.
“Citizens are resorting to public water boreholes which is basically now the only access to potable water and that has presented a problem in the implementation of Covid-19 prevention protocols, the chief among them being social distancing and sanitising and regular hand washing under running water,” Mudzingwa said.
“Leakages in the city’s pipelines have provided major water shortages and what we are doing as the CWA is that we are advocating for initiatives to, for example, engage duty bearers who are supposed to protect human rights to water. We have also engaged parliament so that 15% of the annual budget will be allocated for water and sanitation and have that commitment be implemented for a period of at least five years so we deal with infrastructure issues such as the replacement of obsolete pipes.”
He added: “Issues of water affect women more who, by virtue of our patriarchal system, are confined to the chores of fetching water, so we are pushing petitions to lobby the government to declare a state of emergency on water service delivery so we get support from international NGOs and other partners to address the challenge.”
NGOs have been championing the effort to alleviate the water situation in the country with the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe (EFZ) having already constructed over 10 boreholes for residents all over Harare. Other NGOs fighting for the water cause include GOAL Zimbabwe and the United Nations Education Fund who teamed up to establish more than 50 hand-washing stations in Mbare through the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) Prevention and Response project, which started in June and is expected to end later this year.
According to the latest United Nations Situation Report, over 3,7 million people in Zimbabwe are in need of WASH support under the 2020 Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP), along with 7,3 million people in need under the Covid-19 Addendum. Under the HRP, partners are targeting more than four million people across rural (77%) and urban (23%) areas, while under the Covid-19 Addendum, partners are targeting an additional 2,1 million people.
Access to safe water in rural areas remains a challenge with only 30% of the 55 709 water sources tracked by the Rural Water Information Management System (RWIMS), providing water from a protected source.
At the same time, the number of boreholes pumps that are breaking down are increasing as communities lack funds and support to repair them.