The Sunday Mail
There are basically two fundamental issues affecting the supply of potable water in Harare.
Firstly, this relates to the quality of drinking water, and secondly, the availability.
There have been various tests proving that water pumped into people’s homes by the Harare City Council (HCC) does not meet the expected World Health Organisation (WHO) standards.
Most notably, the immediate-past Mayor of Harare, Bernard Manyenyeni, famously noted that however arguable the quality of water in Harare is, it basically fails the “eye test”.
Residents are often cautioned to either treat the water themselves — by either using chlorine or boiling it — before consuming it.
It is equally worrying that tests have also proven that borehole water in most low-density and high-density suburbs is contaminated.
But one need not be told that water from unprotected sources such as shallow wells is hazardous.
City fathers have the responsibility to ensure that residents have access to potable water.
Lest we overlook or forget it, the provision of safe, potable water is now considered a fundamental human right under the new Constitution.
But City of Harare is now rationing water ostensibly because of the low water levels in Harare’s raw water sources and soaring costs of water treatment chemicals, most of which are imported.
Currently, the water rationing exercise is considered to be unavoidable.
My perspective on the issue might be helpful since I was intimately involved as a senior technocrat in processes of supplying potable water when I joined HCC in 1983.
After independence, the city had Lake Chivero — then called Mcllwaine — as its biggest and main source of raw water.
There were other smaller water sources such as Prince Edward Dam Complex, near Chitungwiza, which also augmented supplies.
These supplies also catered for the Greater Harare area, which covers Chitungwiza, Ruwa, Norton and other satellite towns.
After realising that Lake Chivero could not solely meet demand for Harare and surrounding satellite towns, HCC then decided to link, through an underground water tunnel (of about 20 kilometres), with the much bigger Darwendale Dam (now Lake Harava), near Norton.
The dam was also linked to the water treatment plant at Morton Jeffrey.
Indeed, the tunnel was duly constructed and commissioned by the then Finance Minister Bernard Chidzero.
Overall, the project was led by HCC’s department of works.
It has to be noted that raw water from Harava was of a better and higher quality than that from Chivero as the latter suffered from high pollution, particularly from industrial and commercial waste.
The situation seems to have deteriorated further as raw sewerage is being discharged into rivers feeding into Lake Chivero.
Added to this is the hyacinth weed that is choking the lake.
Most notably, the construction of the new tunnel also doubled the pumping capacity at the water works through the installation of bigger pumps, which relayed the precious liquid to water control reservoirs in Warren Park.
Further, the city resolved to duplicate the pipeline which carries treated water from the Morton Jeffrey to the reservoirs.
I was recently disappointed after learning that HCC has since inexplicably decommissioned the tunnel connecting Chivero and Harava dams.
All these works, however, were funded by the Belgium-headquartered European Investment Bank.
Demand for water has been rising owing to expanding settlements.
At the time, the World Bank also financed the construction of high-density houses in Budiriro through the World Bank Urban Two Development Programme.
The Americans, using the US Aid Agency, also bankrolled two phases of the Kuwadzana High-density Housing Development Project.
Almost all these water supply projects were financed through negotiated concessionary facilities that hinged on well-thought-out and judiciously crafted repayment schemes.
The loans were serviced after generous grace periods.
For the medium term, the city fathers then planned on drawing water from another source of raw water to cater for growing demand.
Constructing a new dam, Kunzvi Dam, in Goromonzi was mooted.
A new water treatment plant was also considered.
In addition, there were also grand plans for a mini-hydroelectricity generating plant at Kunzvi Dam and irrigation facilities for the surrounding communities.
It was envisaged that water from Kunzvi Dam would be pumped first into control reservoirs at Letombo Reservoir Complex in Msasa, Harare, and, in turn, water from the reservoir would be redistributed to north-eastern suburbs such as Greendale, Mabvuku and Tafara including eastern satellite towns such as Ruwa and Zimre plus existing pipelines and reservoirs to feed the northern areas.
Growing water supplies from Chivero and Harava Dams — and from the proposed Kunzvi Dam — would have meant enhancing and upgrading the reservoirs’ capacity, especially at the Letombo Reservoirs Complex.
It would also have meant increasing the sewage treatment capacity for the whole city, particularly at Firle Treatment Plant near Glen View and Crowborough Sewage Treatment Plant in Mufakose.
The 30-year Harare Water Supply and Distribution Strategic Plan also involved relaying new pipes with a bigger diameter.
It is not surprising that HCC is now plagued by continued pipe bursts.
When I voluntarily left City of Harare in 1993, notable and decent progress had been made or achieved under the Harare Water Supply Strategic Plan, with the only most notable and major exception being the construction of Kunzvi Dam.
In Zimbabwe’s case, however, most planned investments were frustrated by the illegal sanctions imposed by the West, which were prompted by the long overdue fast-track land reform programme implemented by Harare at the turn of the millennium.
Unfortunately, the embargo crimped the country’s ability to service some of its debts, particularly to some of these foreign creditors.
With the current efforts by the new political administration to re-engage with the West, it is hoped that some of these major water and electricity supply projects would also be revived and expedited.
In recent years, China extended a US$144 million loan for the rehabilitation of Morton Jeffrey Water Works.
It also financed the extension of Kariba South Hydroelectric Power Station.
Encouragingly, Beijing has agreed in principle to finance the construction of Kunzvi Dam.
Government, therefore, has to use this financing window from the Chinese to sponsor urgent water and power projects.
China recently unveiled a US$60 billion resource envelope for African countries.
Leaks and revenue collections
It is disingenuous to claim that water is being rationed because of the low dam water levels since both Chivero and Harava are more than 65 percent full.
To add insult to injury, the continued loss and leakage of treated water from Morton Jeffrey has now reached alarming, unprecedented and outrageous levels.
Unofficial estimates suggest that more than 60 percent of treated and or clean water from Morton Jeffrey is lost through leakages from old and rusting pipes, including illegal connections.
The antiquated pipes also contribute to the strange colour and odour of the water that is pumped in people’s homes.
Most disconcertingly, of the 40 percent of treated water that eventually finds its way into people’s homes, less than half of it is paid for by ratepayers.
HCC desperately needs to improve its revenue collections, for this might be important for servicing any future loans to the local authority.
Lastly, the city also needs to stop the haemorrhage of foreign currency through sourcing its water treatment chemicals locally.
In any case, one of the main imported chemicals, aluminium sulphate, has a ready substitute from the local market, which is produced by Chemplex Corporation, a subsidiary of IDC.
Its high time HCC puts its act together.
Edmore Ndudzo is the first black treasurer of the City of Harare. He was lead consultant in compilation and drafting of the Public Finance Management Act of 2009