Water crisis exposes Harare's deadly failure

HARARE - For Harare residents, the burden of the ongoing water crisis can be measured in the weight of buckets.

Few outside of Harare can tell you how much a 25-litre bucket of water weighs. But in Harare, they can recite it from memory.

For years now, many Harare residents have been making the daily journey to boreholes to load up on buckets of water for virtually every basic chore: cooking, bathing, brushing teeth and making dinner.

Residents have just endured another weekend without water supplies amid reports the crisis is set to continue for much longer, after the MDC-run council missed the deadline for the refurbishment of its biggest water treatment plant, Morton Jaffray, which has now been extended by nine more months due to a funding shortfall!

Most of Harare’s municipal water supplies being pumped into the city’s aging pipes to flow into residents’ taps remain unsafe to drink without a filter — this despite securing a $144 million facility from the Chinese in January 2015 to rehabilitate Morton Jaffray water plant.

The rehabilitation was meant to replace the plant’s old equipment with more modern power efficient equipment. But there are halting signs of progress. Why? Because council splurged $8 million of the $144m loan granted by the China National Machinery and Equipment Import and Export Corporation on 25 luxury vehicles, without even going to tender!

Ex-town clerk Tendai Mahachi got a Range Rover Evoque while engineers Christopher Zvobgo and Phillip Pfukwa took delivery of Land Rover Discovery SUVs from the water loan. Other officials got Ford Rangers, Isuzu and Toyota twin cabs, depending on their personal preference.

Rehabilitation of the plant was expected to improve the city’s water production capacity to 650 million litres per day from the current 450 million litres. Harare needs at least 900 mega litres of water daily.

Zimbabwe’s capital has been battling water challenges due to antiquated equipment, lack of financial resources to purchase chemicals, with most suburbs going for years without tap water.

While health services director Prosper Chonzi claims the city’s water is no less safe than other sources around the nation — for those lucky to be receiving it — many residents question those claims given that heavy metals such as lead, mercury, toxic levels of iron and phosphates have been found in the waste water that eventually flows to Morton Jaffray Waterworks for purification.

Some residents say they break out in rashes if they use Harare water. Since January, two children are reported to have lost their lives to typhoid with total suspected cases of 604, and the outbreak spreading beyond Mbare — the disease’s epicentre — to adjacent suburbs such as Budiriro and Glen View, where many have been sickened by contaminated water and food.

Residents are daily subjected to unsafe drinking water, burst sewer pipes and uncollected garbage.

Another risk is cholera, a bacterial disease. A cholera outbreak that started in August 2008 killed over 4 000 people and left nearly 100 000 ill.

As central government tries to enforce accountability for the crisis, the city has revived its drive to replace its old pipes. At least 60 percent of treated water is lost through leakages.

Harare City Council has just secured $20 million from the African Development Bank (AfDB) to bankroll the rehabilitation of water distribution services in Harare.

This will involve digging up and replacing old lead pipes.

The $20m will not be enough to overhaul them all given that it seeks to replace only 50km, or just five suburbs by replacing water pipes, rehabilitating water pump stations as well purchasing bulk meters.

It feels like we are right back at the beginning.

It’s a shame that it’s taken this long. The bottom line is that we need and deserve new pipes and also boost supplies so that more residents get the precious liquid. Council expects a fully-refurbished Morton Jaffray to reduce physical water losses by 72 million litres per day and increase the city’s supply coverage to 72 000 households.

But even with the new infrastructure, the real challenge in Harare may be restoring public confidence in tap water in the face of immeasurable distrust.

Comments (1)

It is quite shocking to hear a city council official clain that Harare's water is as safe as that from any other source. What do these officials take us for? Fools or ...? On numerous ocassions the water colour is brown-greenish and even if the water at times appears to be clean, the sewage stench is always there. If you boil the water gure rese rinobva rabuda pachena; some sewage-motivated froth appears at the surface of the boiling water and the same sewage stench becomes more pronounced. To clearly prove that the water is not fit for human consumption, take a clean container, put the water therein, let it settle for a a few hours and you will be shocked by solids that settle at the bottom of the water.

munya Mbire - 29 May 2017

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