Harare admits its water is not safe

HARARE - In a embarrassing admission of guilt, the Harare City Council (HCC) says it is failing to provide safe water to millions of the city’s residents — warning that they must exercise extreme caution when consuming it — in yet another sign exposing how things have crumbled at the country’s biggest local municipality.

This comes as HCC is experiencing a serious water crisis caused by the delays in completing the refurbishment of its biggest water treatment plant — Morton Jaffray (MJ) — due to funding problems.

Harare mayor, Bernard Manyenyeni, yesterday delivered a chilling warning to consumers of the city’s water that at present the local municipality did not have capacity to supply safe water largely due to shortages of foreign currency needed in importing water treatment chemicals.

“The water coming out of our taps is failing to pass the eye test in some areas. There have been numerous pictures and video clips circulating showing our water being brownish and sometimes greenish. Our claims that the water is chemically safe to drink will not hold if the residents cannot stand the sight of frothing or foaming coloured water.

“This has been caused by shortage of our main chemicals, aluminium sulphate, sulphuric acid, HTH Chlorine and activated carbon. Almost all chemicals are imported and we have been caught in the crisis of forex. We are putting demands for priority with the Central Bank. We have also requested the ministry (of Local Government) to push for priority allocation.

“We are probably the city which requires the most number of water treatment chemicals in the world. We need seven chemicals when other councils can get quality water with just two chemicals,” Manyenyeni said.

“It is therefore fair to share with you that while we assert that we are doing the best to fix the quality issues, we apologise and request our consumers to exercise maximum caution (when consuming the water) until such time as total quality is assured.

“We do this out of caution and shared responsibility with our customers. We will do our best to fix this problem as a matter of escalated priority,” Manyenyeni added.

The mayor, who is seeing out his final months in office before next year’s general election, said Harare’s water woes could only be restfully solved if the construction of long-mooted Kunzvi and Musami dams, were expedited.

The dams were planned during the era of the Federation of Northern and Southern Rhodesia and Nyasaland in the 1950s when Harare, then Salisbury, had just an estimated 300 000 residents.

“I can proudly share that over the three years, we have increased our supply from under 400 megalitres per day to over 500 megalitres per day and targeting 600 megalitres. This has been largely due to the refurbishment of the MJ waterworks at Lake Chivero.

“This plant is 60 years old and was designed to cater for a city population of 300 000 but is now having to serve four million people as the population has grown and we also serve satellite communities like Chitungwiza, Ruwa and Norton.

“The city as a whole has an infrastructure deficit of 30 years. So the capacity challenges we are facing in 2017 are results of expansion not done in 1980, 1990, 2000 etc. 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,” Manyenyeni told the media.

HCC expects a fully-refurbished MJ to reduce physical water losses by 72 million litres per day, increase the city’s supply coverage to 72 000 households, reduce non-revenue water by 25 percent and increase revenue by about $21,6 million a year.

The city fathers have been battling a serious water crisis for years now due to old infrastructure, which has seen the council failing to meet residents’ full demand.

HCC requires a total of 800 mega litres a day to meet its demand, but the city is currently only able to pump between 450 and 500 mega litres, prompting authorities to introduce water rationing in many areas.

As one of its measures to have a grip on the water crisis, HCC is mulling a full-scale roll-out of water inflow limiters, to compel residents to conserve the scarce resource.

Apart from refurbishing MJ and Prince Edward water works, HCC also requires $178 million to fund its water pipe replacement and network rehabilitation exercise, to avoid losses due to burst pipes and illegal connections.

Harare city has a distribution network of 5 500 kilometres of pipe network, which is linked to 15 booster pump stations, 28 reservoir sites and 200 000 customer connection points.

Access to safe water is linked to the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.

SDG six places emphasis on the need for communities to access clean and safe water and mandates UN member States to ensure its availability.

In its 2017 report to mark the World Water Day — commemorated annually on March 22 — UN Water noted that most African countries were still lagging behind in terms of access to safe drinking water.

Zimbabwe has, for example, suffered embarrassing outbreaks of water borne diseases such as typhoid and cholera.

More than 4 000 people died from Cholera in 2008 while 50 000 cases of diarrhoea were recorded last year, with 30 people dying from the outbreak.

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