Nearly every municipality in Zimbabwe is grappling with a water crisis, putting lives in great danger.
In January this year, Bulawayo City Council (BCC) instituted a 48-hour water rationing exercise as its water sources have gone down due to erratic rains.
So severe is the situation in Bulawayo, in particular, that United Bulawayo Hospitals (UBH) has been forced to suspend all its surgical operations.
UBH chief executive officer Nonhlanhla Ndlovu recently told the media that the water crisis had severely incapacitated one of the southern region’s top hospitals.
“The city council’s water-shedding hasn’t spared us. We don’t have water. Council is also not supplying us with water bowsers to alleviate the problem. We are finding it hard to fill up containers with water. We just hope the period won’t extend further because the situation will be out of control,” said Ndlovu.
A few days after BCC started rationing water, the Harare City Council (HCC) followed suit.
HCC has advised its residents that Lake Chivero — its main water source — has water supply for only 18 months at its current levels.
Other local authorities have reduced their water supply owing to low water levels at their supply dams.
The escalating water crisis in almost all local authorities, according to the Community Water Alliance (CWA), could be a precursor to a national disaster.
“The majority of local authorities in the country are proposing water rationing and this is likely to cause a health disaster if the situation is not handled properly.
“The crisis is manifesting through dwindling water levels in dams where local authorities abstract water for treatment before distributing to citizens,” said CWA chairperson Hildaberta Rwambiwa.
She added that dam level averages throughout the country were far from encouraging.
“Besides dwindling water levels in dams; there is serious siltation in dams, very high water pollution levels, poor catchment management and wetlands depletion, poor quality of potable water, insufficient potable water, obsolete infrastructure, crisis of foreign currency availability for water treatment chemicals, poor funding for water projects, downgraded sewerage and water treatment plants,” said Rwambiwa.
CWA has warned that unless the water crisis in the country is attended to, a disaster looms.
Rwambiwa told the Daily News on Sunday that there is an escalating water crisis in every local authority.
CWA also wants to see enhanced transparency and accountability in the way water system is administered.
The organisation’s programmes manager, Hardlife Mudzingwa said loan agreements and guarantees being concluded by the government for the water sector were not being published in the Government Gazette within 60 days in line with the Constitution
The CWA programmes manager also bemoaned the lack of meaningful fiscal support to address the water supply crisis. Finance minister Mthuli Ncube only allocated 2,7 percent of his budget to water and sanitation despite the country’s typhoid and cholera history.
“In essence, there is no water fund. Water and sanitation projects are huge capital projects that require money from central government.
“Local authorities will not, on their own, manage to raise those funds. The 2018 Service Level Benchmarking report by the Urban Councils Authorities of Zimbabwe revealed that on average Zimbabwe’s local authorities are losing 43 percent of water produced through leakages and unaccounted for loses.
“The same report revealed that proper solid waste management has dropped from 93 percent to 78 percent. This means that a lot of potable water is lost through leakages, illegal connections and also that the condition of raw water within local authorities will continue to deteriorate. If local authorities remain contained in the vicious cycle of water pollution and request for foreign currency at the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, the challenges on water and sanitation will persist,” Mudzingwa said.
A schedule by the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (Zinwa) indicated that catchment area averages were low this year with Gwayi Catchment at 62,1 percent, Manyame Catchment (88,7), Mazowe Catchment (92), Mzingwane Catchment (66,8), Runde Catchment (56,7), Sanyati Catchment (72,3) and Save Catchment (65,8).
Last year, the dam level averages were much higher with the Manyame catchment’s dam level average standing at 92,1 percent, Gwayi Catchment (67,3), Mazowe Catchment (90,4), Mzingwane Catchment (84,3), Runde Catchment (53,6), Save Catchment (78, 3) and Sanyati Catchment (76,3) respectively.
Zinwa’s corporate communications manager Marjorie Munyonga told the Daily News on Sunday that a significant number of dams still hold sufficient water to meet the country’s agricultural and domestic needs.
She, however, conceded that some dams may not be able to sustain demand until the coming rain season.
“It follows that when we have depressed dam levels, there is bound to be scarcity in some areas. However, it is not all the users that will be affected as some dams still have water.
“The major challenge that we have at the moment is not about the number of dams per se, but the limited rains that the country is receiving. The largely below normal rains have thus led to depressed inflows into the dams,” she said.
Munyonga added that the government was also in the process of constructing new dams in needy areas.
“Of course there are places which are in need of new water bodies and government is already making strides towards the construction of such water infrastructure.
“Among these places are Rushinga where Semwa Dam is already under construction, Murambinda where Marowanyati Dam is substantially complete and has already started impounding water and Bulawayo where Gwayi Shangani is also under construction,” she said.
But in the meantime, she said demand management may come to the fore in the face of limited water, adding, though, that the process shall be guided by the law and other principles of Integrated Water Resources Management.
“Our solutions to the problem shall be guided by the Zinwa Act and the Water Act which mandate Zinwa to ensure that the impact of floods and droughts are mitigated. The authority will continue to closely monitor the situation and come up with solutions that may include the drilling of boreholes for communities, connecting centres to new raw water sources and rolling out awareness campaigns among water users on the need to conserve the resource. In all the interventions that the authority will make, saving human lives shall be a top priority,” said the Zinwa corporate communications manager.