The Sunday Mail
HARARE, Zimbabwe’s capital city, is dry.
According to statistics from a recent world water situation survey, one in every four of the world’s 500 largest cities suffer from water stress.
Harare, a city of over two million, has joined this infamous list. The plight of Harare, however, is just a tip of the iceberg.
Its dormitory towns, Chitungwiza and Norton, suffer from the same water scarcity bedevilling it.
Initially planned to service just over 300 000 residents, Harare’s water infrastructure is now aged. As the urban population expanded over the years — upgrades were carried out but they did nothing to improve the situation.
High water pollution levels, often involving raw sewage and industrial waste, have seen the city requiring expensive treatment chemicals. Cash-strapped city fathers have watched helplessly as residents resort to boreholes, enterprising water merchants, open wells and polluted rivers for the precious liquid.
As Zimbabwe joins the rest of the world in commemorating World Water Day today many are wondering if there is there anything to celebrate.
Held annually on March 22, World Water Day is meant to focus on the importance of freshwater and related issues. However, those with access to water may wonder what is so important about this liquid that warrants its own day on the United Nations (UN) calendar.
But, according to the UN, despite covering 70 percent of the earth’s surface, over one billion people worldwide have no access to water while another 2,7 billion people find it scarce for at least one month of the year.
The UN projects global demand for fresh water to exceed supply by 40 percent in the next 10 years due to climate change, human activity and expansion of the world’s population.
Now, back to Zimbabwe, and Harare specifically, what does this day really represent?
Women and the struggle for water
Even as the world commemorates World Water Day — the struggle for water continues.
In the case of Zimbabwe, this struggle bears the face of a woman, as more often than not it is the woman and girl child that has to fetch water for household needs.
It is because of this critical role by women that a group of them in Mabvuku recently took matters into their own hands.
After suffering for months at the hands of a handful of water barons — the women finally gathered enough courage and repossessed a community borehole from the crooks.
For the better part of 2019, women in Mabvuku near Kamunhu Shopping Centre had been struggling to access water from a borehole drilled and handed over to the community by a local church.
It had been taken over by a gang that sold water to residents.
“Fights would break out because of anger as one could spend up to three days in a water queue,” said Mrs Lizzy Chikwanha, who now chairs a 10-member committee of women managing the borehole.
“Also, we know that some of the pregnancies within the community are a result of young girls spending several hours at the boreholes where they tried to get water easily by offering sexual favours.”
According to the female residents, one bucket of water initially cost $2 but was later reviewed to $5.
Mrs Joyce Chirwa, a water committee member, said having an 82-year-old mentally challenged mother who needed nursing forced her to spend nights in the queue.
Despite reporting the problem to the Harare City Council, the struggle for water was not resolved.
This forced a group of women to come up with a plan.
A register with full names of residents meant to access water from the borehole was created. Water vendors attempted to return to the borehole but were resisted, sometimes violently.
“We wake up at 5am to unlock the borehole. We limit it to just five buckets so that everyone gets a chance. Then we lock it at 7pm. By that time everyone would have gotten water including those who go to work early or come back in the evening.
“We realised it was better to take turns to man the borehole and get water equally than to buy water as was the case before,” said Mrs Chirwa.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. These women won the battle — but can Harare City Council make water flow through the taps again?
One wonders for how long will residents continue to look for alternative means to get the precious liquid.
But really, are there any plans in the near future to end this crisis? The answer at the moment leaves one in despair.
State of water supply
The story of the Mabvuku women is a microcosm of the water challenges bedevilling Zimbabwe.
Government aims to attain Sustainable Development Goals such as ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.
In this bid, there is a call to pay special attention to the needs of women and girls as well as those in vulnerable situations.
According to the 2019 Zimbabwe Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey — key findings on drinking water, sanitation and hygiene — 79 percent of women of 15 years and above are primarily responsible for collecting drinking water in households without water on premises.
Harare’s erratic supply of water has worsened due to the battle to settle an US$80 million debt to suppliers of water treatment chemicals.
In an interview, City of Harare acting director for water Engineer Mabhena Moyo said pumping of water to suburbs had declined by half from about 340 megalitres last year to 170 megalitres this year within the same period.
Seeking alternative sources
Due to unreliable supply of water by Harare City Council, residents including those in high-density areas are sacrificing the little savings they have to drill bore-holes.
In addition, the green “Jojo” tanks installed within residential premises to store water are fast becoming the trend. Meanwhile, entrepreneurs who provide services for bulk water deliveries, are sprouting on a daily basis.
Mr Reuben Matasva, who runs a borehole drilling company, said more people were resorting to drilling boreholes as council fails to supply adequate safe water.
“People are drilling private boreholes in their homes at an alarming rate as council water is no longer reliable,” said Mr Matasva.
“Council has also failed to repair the few boreholes dotted around the high-density suburbs. The biggest demand is from residents in high-density suburbs such as Budiriro, Glen View, Glen Norah, Highfield, Mabvuku, Kuwadzana and Chitungwiza.”
He said the cost of drilling a borehole ranged from US$1 500 to US$3 500 depending on the type and depth.
However, drilling a borehole on private properties for the average family remains a pipedream.
Moreso for women like those in Mabvuku, who cannot afford to pay $5 for a bucket of water.