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Water harvesting to the rescue

The right to water, sanitation and health remains a pipe dream for millions of Zimbabweans as accessing safe water anytime soon remains highly unlikely.

Environment with Chipo Masara

It should not come as a surprise that the country is experiencing yet another typhoid outbreak as many people are drinking dirty water from unprotected sources.

In a report released by Human Rights Watch late last year, millions of residents were said to be at risk of waterborne diseases as the conditions that encouraged the 2008/2009 cholera outbreak that reportedly killed over 4 000 people, still existed.

Today, the water crisis seems to be worse than ever before. In most urban areas, municipal water is non-existent and people get water from boreholes, while the majority depend on often unprotected shallow wells. Thus, many do not have any access to safe water, especially to drink, and have to contend with drinking the pathogen-infested water.

For those that get a somewhat steady supply of municipal tap water, the water is not always safe. Harare municipal water for instance, was found to contain pathogens in a laboratory test carried out by the Standards Association of Zimbabwe last year.

Owing to the tough economic conditions prevailing in Zimbabwe, it is highly unlikely that the authorities responsible for water management in the country will be able to offer a solution to the water crisis bedevilling urban dwellers.

The situation is not any better for people in communal areas.

Zimbabwe, like the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, is believed to have been hit by climate change much sooner than many had anticipated.

The country has, over the last few years, been experiencing much warmer weather conditions and more erratic rainfall patterns. Many are struggling to adapt to the climate change conditions, which have culminated in a great decrease in water supply, which has had an adverse effect on agricultural activities. Food security has been greatly compromised, with over two million of the country’s population believed to be in dire need of food aid. Those that live in agro-ecological regions 4 and 5 — very hot areas receiving very little rainfall —are much more vulnerable.

But the water situation is not as gloomy for some in the country that have found ways to harvest rainwater, even those living in areas that receive as little as 400mm g of rainfall per annum.

In a country with a water crisis of the abovementioned magnitude, some people have realised it does not make sense to let any water they receive go to waste.

Water harvesting is the art of capturing rainwater as it falls, retaining it in the soil or in tanks for later use as a source of clean water.

The Rooftop Water Harvesting (ZimRoof) programme, implemented in the country by the International Relief and Development (IRD), saw the installation of about 805 rooftop rainwater harvesting systems. It benefitted a total of 2 653 households, mostly in the dormitory town of Chitungwiza, and eight schools.

Today, women and children that benefitted from the project no longer have to bear travelling long distances just to fetch water. The rainwater harvesting components used, which are all made locally, are simple, consisting of gutters attached to the roof and water storage tanks. This is contrary to popular belief that rainwater harvesting is an expensive procedure that requires out-of-this-world, very expensive equipment.

In Matabeleland South, the arid weather conditions there have always made agriculture a near impossibility. Climate change did not make the situation any better. With hunger looming, many resorted to selling their livestock at giveaway prices in order to buy some food.

For Tias Sibanda of Ward 17, struggling to feed his family is now a thing of the past. He was one of the farmers in the area to start building contour ridges to trap rainwater and reduce soil loss, with help from Practical Action. Today, Sibanda manages to harvest enough maize to leave him with a surplus to sell, in spite of the persistent droughts.

But while there are some who have received relief through different rainwater harvesting techniques, it is being done at too small a scale to mean anything substantial to the country as a whole. Calls for the government to prioritise and promote rainwater harvesting projects on a national scale seem to have fallen on deaf ears.

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