Innocent Ruwende Senior Reporter
The MDC-T-led Harare City Council has admitted that the water it pumps into residents’ homes may not be safe for human consumption, and advised consumers to exercise caution until such a time that total quality is assured. Borehole water in some of Harare’s high-density suburbs was recently condemned as unsafe for human consumption, leaving residents without a confirmed safe source of potable water.
Tests confirmed that some boreholes were contaminated with the Escherichia coli (E.coli) bacteria which causes water-borne diseases and other health challenges. Addressing stakeholders following several pictures and video clips circulating on social media showing the city’s water as brownish or greenish, Harare Mayor Councillor Bernard Manyenyeni said the city was raising the caution out of concern for consumers.
“Our claims that the water is chemically safe to drink will not hold if residents cannot stand the sight of frothing or foaming coloured water. This has been caused by the shortage of our main chemicals — aluminium sulphate, sulphuric acid, HTH Chlorine and activated carbon,” said Clr Manyenyeni.
“Almost all our chemicals are imported and we have been caught in the crisis of forex. We are putting more demands for priority with the central bank. We have also requested the Ministry (Local Government, Public Works and National Housing) to push for that priority allocation,” he said.
“It is, therefore, fair to share with you all that while we assert that we are doing the best to fix the quality issues, we apologise and request our consumers to exercise caution until such a time as total quality is assured. We will do our best to fix this problem as a matter of escalated priority.”
Council is rehabilitating Morton Jaffray waterworks under a $144 million loan facility from China’s Exim Bank to end the city’s erratic water supplies. The rehabilitation is reportedly almost complete, with the contractor said to be in the process of moving from the site, but nothing has changed in terms of water quality.
Council claims to have only received half of the $144 million loan, and the other half is needed to refurbish sewer works so that the quality of effluent discharged into Lake Chivero is treated to improve the quality of raw water. A number of old waterpipes are also said to require urgent replacement. The loan has not been without controversy after council directors reportedly splurged some of the money on 25 top of the range vehicles, arguing they were provided for in the contract.
There were also allegations that council bought some items at inflated prices. Cllr Manyenyeni said there was no instant solution as the efforts being made were long-term, as the city required new water sources like Kunzvi Dam, which has been on the cards for decades.
“We also suffer from the issue of having to pollute our raw water upstream, then harvest it downstream when its quality is at its poorest,” he said. “We are probably the only city which requires the most number of chemicals to treat its water.
“We need seven chemicals when other councils can get quality water with just two chemicals. This brings us to the very current issue of the quality of water we are supplying for your consumption. The water coming out of our taps is failing the eye test in some of the areas. There have been numerous pictures and video clips circulating. This has been reported over the past three months,” he said.
Cllr Manyenyeni said over the past three years, the city had increased water supplies from 400 megalitres a day to over 500 megalitres and that it was targeting 600 megalitres a day after the refurbishment of the Morton Jaffray waterworks at Lake Chivero.
Asked what residents should do given that borehole and tap water was deemed unsafe, Environment Management Committee chairperson Councillor Herbert Gomba said the city would deal with each case.
“We need to investigate the root cause,” he said. “In some areas it is dirty, but here in Glen Norah the water is clean. It is surprising that water which is treated at the same point is showing different results in people’s homes.”