Clean drinking water in many parts of Zimbabwe remains a mirage though things are somewhat better than 2008-2009 when many local water systems were in collapse, leaving the population without safe drinking water and even the means of flushing toilets. Getting clean water for household consumption is still a daily struggle.
Now the country is facing new outbreaks of water-borne disease though fortunately not on the scale of the cholera epidemic of 2008 to 2009 which took 4,300 lives.
In Bulawayo residents say the water problem has very little to do with rainfall patterns but much to do with lack of planning on the part of authorities. Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association coordinator Rodrick Fayayo said people in the region are ‘surviving through the grace of God’
“The last dam that was built in Matabeleland I think was built more than ten years ago but in the last ten years we have seen an upsurge in terms of the population in Matabeleland and yet there hasn’t been an upsurge in terms of the water supply to Matabeleland,” said Fayayo.
In Mutare, acting mayor George Jerison said the local authority inherited a very bad situation.
He says funds to improve the water works were initially made available to the previous Misheck Kagurabadza-led council but those funds were never put to good use when the mayor was suspended with his whole council in 2005 and a new commission was appointed by Local Government Minister Ignatius Chombo.
“There is water shortage in places like Greenside but specifically in Dangamvura, Chikanga and Hobhouse – they get their water around 12 midnight for two hours and after that the water is cut.”
Harare mayor Muchadeyi Masunda described the situation in the capital as dire. He said the demand for water on a daily basis for the city and those on the outskirts is about 1,400 megalitres, but says on a good day - electricity permitting, the municipality produces around 640 megalitres, far less than what is needed.
“The problem that we have is one of payment because as we speak Harare water is owed a total of $106 million by various consumers. We have to find, every month, not less than $2million to procure water treatment chemicals, and money does not grow on trees.”
Focusing on Harare, the capital and major metropolitan center, what should have been done by now – and by whom? Masunda said it won’t help anyone to ‘play the blame game” as what is needed are solutions, he believes there is need for the central government to plan properly and to stop sending conflicting signals.
“From a central government perspective we want to see more policy positions.”
Residents agree the job is too big to leave in the hands of the local authority – major capital improvements must be made eventually to stabilize and expand water flows.
For Bulawayo the long-term solution could be the Matabeleland-Zambezi Water Project bringing in major new flows from the river. But Fayayo said there is a lack of political will to push ahead on this big project.
“Towards elections there is talk of that project but I must confess that after the coming in of Minister Sam Sipepa Nkomo we have seen some movement but the movement has been very slow.”
But it’s not all doom and gloom across Zimbabwe. Kadoma Mayor Peter Matambo said his council has partnered with international and non-governmental organizations to rehabilitate water system. City water resources should be sufficient for demand for two years.
“We have enough water for the next 24 months. We have a dam that is almost 95 percent full.”
But water depends on electricity to power pumps, so the mayor says a dedicated power line to the system is needed to ensure that water keeps flowing.
“Unfortunately we have load-shedding and we have faults with the ZESA lines.”
Reports say several local authorities have been promised money for water system improvements by government from a resource called Zimfund. Jerison in Mutare hopes these will let the town repair and replace equipment.
“I was talking to the city engineer last week and he assured me that we will have water in Dangamvura by May, and to add to that we received some invitation to attend this workshop in Harare. We were assured that we will get $5.6 million from Zimfund for water and sanitation.”
Health experts say water and sanitation-related illnesses are among the leading causes of death in Zimbabwe. Many continue to look up to the central government and local authorities to see if they can address the perennial water problems in the country that many say have derailed development, affecting poverty alleviation and related programs.
But Zimbabweans await firm action.