Leroy Dzenga Features Writer
The state of Harare water has been a topical issue over the past few days and as is the norm, blame is flying with splattering discharge. Some residents are accusing City of Harare councillors of ineptitude while others are pointing fingers at the former Minister of Local Government, Saviour Kasukuwere for disrupting efficiency at Town House due to continued interference.
While these concerns are not unfounded, the contributing factors run deeper than what many would care to appreciate in their analyses.
Observers suggest that clear and drinkable water may remain a literal pipe dream as long as pollution to raw water is not reduced.
Water activist and Programme Manager for Community Water Alliance, Hardlife Mudzingwa said pollution is among the key reasons behind the current state Harare water is in.
“The quality of water that people are getting in Harare presently is not good. Residents are getting this water because there is pollution of raw water and the seven chemicals which the city presently use in treatment cannot entirely clean the water of the pollutants,” Mudzingwa said.
Current foreign currency shortages do not help the situation considering that most of the chemicals are in shortage.
“The Crowborough sewer water treatment plan has also not been fully functional as a result it has been discharging raw sewage effluent into Marimba River. As long as things like that are not solved then we will have a problem of unclean water in Harare,” he said.
Residents, although they are crying the loudest in the midst of all this madness are not entirely exonerated from the problems.
Raw water in Harare is polluted and until the pollution is reduced clean water will always be difficult to dispense due to costs.
Mudzingwa said urban farming has also been a major contributor.
“Residents who farm on wetlands are contributing to the pollution of raw water because the fertilisers they use seep water sources as well,” he said.
The non-payment of bills by ratepayers has been an ignored factor in the water discussion.
Harare is owed more than $600 million in unpaid rates and residents have been unfair on the city council expecting them to deliver all services with finesse while they are not holding their end of the bargain.
In 2017, when the council engaged Wellcash debt collectors, their efforts were condemned making it difficult for them to recover what they are owed, a reality which is reflecting in the quality of water being pumped from taps.
City fathers, however, have not been competent in delivering clean water to residents a comparison with other cities would leave them looking like amateurs in local governance.
The amateur tag which would not fail to stick if water supplies are used as a yardstick.
A few weeks after City of Harare`s Director of Water Engineer Hosiah Chisango said Harare water meets World Health Organisation guidelines, a more realistic tune is now being sung.
Harare Mayor Benard Manyenyeni conceded that their water does not inspire confidence.
“Our claim that the water is chemically safe to drink will not hold water if residents cannot stand the sight of frothing or foaming coloured water,” he said recently addressing city dwellers who thronged Town House with complaints.
Foreign currency shortages have been cited as the main reason behind the current slime that residents have been getting at the expense of clean water.
“This has been caused by the shortage of our main chemicals — aluminium sulphate, sulphuric acid, HTH Chlorine and activated Carbon,” Manyenyeni said.
Right after the public admission of failure by the mayor, Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe have come to the rescue of the council pledging to avail US$2,5 million monthly to facilitate chemical purchases from foreign companies.
Residents however are not holding their breath, considering a long history of misappropriation of funds at Town House. Their fears are the money may soon grow wings as has happened to funds over the years within Harare City Council.
In October 2016 reports emerged that Harare awarded a $113 million tender to an unregistered company in a process marred with irregularities. It does not come as a surprise that Harare residents complain of water with sewer sediments flowing into their homes.
Harare Residents` Trust says they have been inundated with pleas to engage the council over the quality of water which has become a potential health risk.
Precious Shumba the trust`s director said; “The residents are clear on their perception of Harare’s water. They say it has visible particles, brownish and greenish in colour and forms with sticky sediments when boiled, smelly and not fit for human consumption.”
Shumba said residents have braved the water quality for close to a decade.
“These descriptions have been repeatedly shared by the residents with their local Ward Councillors and with different officials from Harare Water and the City Treasury and the District Officers since 2009, and in 2016 and 2017 the situation worsened,” he said.
According to Shumba repeated efforts to engage the city has not birthed any tangibles.
“Unfortunately the City officials and the elected councillors have continued to act ignorant of the residents’ concerns, only emerging now as if they have just discovered that their water is unfit for human beings,” he said.
He added; “Residents have lost trust in the Harare Water, and they find it unacceptable, and of very poor quality. But city officials repeatedly claim that their water meets World Health Organisation and Standards Association of Zimbabwe standards. That is all theoretical.”
Indications are residents have since relegated Harare water to bathing and laundry as they cannot fathom ingesting the visibly dirty water.
“The other major root cause of the current problem is the failure by the authorities to uproot water pollution upstream by heavy industrial giants (names supplied) and other companies that continue to dump their untreated waste into the streams that feed water into Harare’s main water body, the Lake Chivero,” Shumba said.
Environmental activists have tried to raise awareness on the preservation of swamps in the city but their efforts have been largely ignored and residents are bearing the brunt.
“The undermining of wetlands has left the Chivero Lake highly exposed to receive toxic waste which becomes more difficult, expensive to treat, increasing the cost of supplying water by Harare City Council.
Instead of requiring only three water treatment chemicals they end up requiring nine water treatment chemicals, and the massive corruption accompanying their purchase it seems the problem will not end anytime soon,” Shumba said.
All hope is not lost, there is hope Harare city can dust off the misgivings surroundings and start supplying drinkable water to its ratepayers.
Shumba suggested that; “Harare Water Account should be ring-fenced so that funds generated from water sales should be ploughed back into maintaining and upgrading the water infrastructure given that the Harare City Council’s Water Account is their cash cow.”
It seems the council is willing to work to salvage what is left of their dented image.
The city`s corporate communications manager Michael Chideme said they are in the process of replacing infrastructure which is contributing to the problem.
“We have replacing the old pipes which will ensure that ratepayers get clean water from their taps. We are already on the ground replacing pipes,” Chideme said.
Chideme added; “We are also adhering to treatment procedures to ensure that our water is of the best quality.”
These pipe replacements, coupled with the foreign currency facility from the RBZ for chemical acquisition are preconditions for clean water finding its way into Zimbabwean homes.
In light of the promised changes, residents in the avenues and suburbs which were in existence in the pre-independence era they must be made aware that their piping infrastructure has outlived its usefulness.
While council needs to ensure water is clean and ratepayers have to meet them halfway through replacing household pipes which may be polluting the water more.
Whether the folk at Town House walk the talk and deliver remains to be seen but the more they delay, the more disgruntled residents become with their service provision.
Harare residents have doubted their tap water for close to a decade, there has to be a silver lining on the horizon for citizens living in a city known as the sunshine city.
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