WATER pumped into homes by the Harare City Council (HCC) is not fit for drinking purposes and could soon cause an outbreak of water-borne diseases, a new independent test commissioned by The Standard has shown.
BY PHYlLIS MBANJE
The laboratory analysis carried out by the Standards Association of Zimbabwe (SAZ) confirmed the presence of harmful coliform bacteria in running water consumed by about four million people in Harare and surrounding areas such as Ruwa, Norton and Chitungwiza.
A water sample, which was taken from Mbare high-density suburb, bore an alarming presence of coliform bacteria, even though the pathogen is not supposed to be in any drinking water.
Experts said the presence of coliform bacteria is an indicator for pathogens (disease causing organisms) whose source varies “from human, animal waste or other forms like rusty or dirty water pipes”.
The SAZ water analysis indicated that micro-organisms in the water far exceeded the recommended maximum.
While the standard SAZS 560 of 1997 recommends a maximum of 100, the total plate count of the sample had more than 300.
In this particular sample however, the presence of human and animal waste was ruled out as there were no traces of E.coli, which is a best indicator of faecal pollution.
“High numbers of total coliforms are used as indicators of pathogenic contamination, as it would not be possible to test for all the micro-organisms,” said a microbiologist from SAZ.
“What this means is that the source of these bacteria in this particular sample could be from the pipes which may be rusty, dirty or have leaks which let in contamination,” he said.
“According to this sample report, there is contamination but most likely from the pipes as the test for E.coli was negative,” he said.
But an independent specialist, who requested anonymity, said any water that fails a microbiological test was not safe for drinking, as it heralded the onset of water-borne diseases.
“The presence of any coliform bacteria makes the water unsafe for drinking and could result in water-borne diseases,” said the specialist.
Harare-based medical practitioner, Abdullah Mohammed Leeya said even though the sample had no faecal contamination, it was equally a threat to people’s health as the bacteria present would interfere with the digestive system.
“The presence of coliform bacteria in water meant for domestic purposes like drinking increases the incidences of contracting water-borne illness.”
He said caution should be taken when drinking tap water.
Said Leeya: “There are some of the health complications caused by the presence of bacteria in drinking water that include nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. The situation is worse for those with compromised immune systems and can affect the lungs, the nervous system or even the kidney.”
Government analysts laboratory director, Luke Musiyambiri, said a water sample which fails the microbiology tests meant that contamination could have occurred at the source or along the way from the source to the tap.
“The presence of bacteria in a water sample is an indication that either the source was contaminated or it may have happened at any stage of handling it,” he said.
Musiyambiri said the corrective action depended on the particular bacteria found in the water.
“Measures to be instituted vary according to the type of bacteria found in the water, with some requiring boiling to make it safe for drinking,” he said.
Harare City Council spokesperson, Leslie Gwindi did not initially respond to written questions put forward to him.
However, on Friday he promised a response which turned out to be a set of instructions on how to collect water samples for testing.
The document came from the water works department headed by Engineer Christopher Zvobgo. Zvobgo himself said through another council spokesperson that Harare water was safe to drink, without necessarily addressing the findings of the tests commissioned by The Standard.