SOME residents in Harare have gone without water for more than three weeks while some areas of Bulawayo have experienced water cuts lasting more than five months. Amid all this chaos, blame shifting has been the order of the day. Power cuts, unreli
able water reticulation equipment and lack of chemicals have been blamed. The quality of tap water is also suspect. Zimbabwe Independent business reporter Paul Nyakazeya (PN) this week spoke to the Minister for Water Resources and Infrastructural Development Munacho Mutezo (MM) on the water crisis in the country.
PN: What really is the problem with the water situation in the country? Can you explain why some residential areas can go for almost a month without water and who is to blame?
MM: The main reason is disruption of electricity, as power is needed to pump water from the main reservoir into other reservoirs. Generators do not have the capacity to pump water past three or four reservoirs before it reaches residential areas. We need 3 300 kilovolts (Kv) for water to be passed through reservoirs. There is no generator with that capacity as it will be equal to a power station. Household generators use between 2,3 – 2,5 Kv volts. Industries use between 3,8-4,5 Kv volts while mines need up to 5,5 volts.
PN: Can you explain how a power cut for about 10 hours can result in a residential area going for nearly a week without water?
MM: There is no definite timeframe as to how long it takes for normal water supplies to resume in the event of power disruption. Factors such as gradient, size of reservoir, another power cut and availability of chemicals whose manufacturer is Zimphos depends on the availability of power.
PN: You still have not answered the question why people are going for a week and even longer without water.
MM: To give an example, in the event of a power cut around Morton Jaffray it can take about an hour for the water to be pumped into Warren Park. From Warren Park it can take about 48 hours of undisrupted power supplies to reach the required levels to Alex Park. It will then take another two days to be pumped into let’s say Highlands and about 48 hours for water to be pumped into residential areas. Note there are levels which the water should reach at all the 28 reservoirs in Harare before moving to the next stage.
PN: From your explanation it is almost a week. During the process, if there is a power cut along the way it means it can take more days?
MM: Definitely these are what we call “start-stops”. The effects of the national blackout this week could result in more days without water. It is not a healthy situation, it also affects us and all stakeholders involved. But without electricity there is no way there will be a constant supply of water in the country. As a result of the power cuts, the Letombo belt — which is one of the largest in Harare — has not been supplied with water.
PN: How then would you explain a residential area going for more than two months without water? Areas such as
Mabvuku-Tafara and some parts of Greendale and Chisipite have been equally affected.
MM: Those areas are a bit out of town and located on high places. In order for water to reach those destinations it has to go through four or five tanks without any disruptions. Water in such areas needs to be pumped in tanks for as high as 150 metres. If there is a power cut during the process the water level will go down flowing back to the first tank. When the situation normalises the water level has to be pumped to levels as high as 150 metres and that will be for four or five tanks.
PN: If about $10 trillion is made available to you today will the situation improve and how?
MM: There will be a significant improvement in areas of chemical supplies, replacing old and burst pipes and time taken to attend to maintenance water issues. But as long as there is power disruptions there will be disruptions to the supply of water.
PN: Zinwa officials are said to be using estimates on water bills, which in most cases are miles away from the actual figures. What do you say about this?
MM: There is not enough manpower to visit every household, as such they visit an area and the next month they use estimates while they visit other areas. We have a history of consumption for every one in the system and know what is reasonable for a household or unit. This is the reason we have been encouraging residential areas to use the minimum water possible in areas that are applicable and they can discourage others when billing is done.
PN: Is that not unfair and dangerous as consumption is different depending on the number of people at a house and how much time they spend at home? Surely you are disadvantaging someone?
MM: We do not rule out errors, which when reported can be rectified. This practice is used the world over. Even in countries which use gas.
PN: Has Zesa explained to you what led to the national blackout this week and are they aware of the impact on production, health, schools, universities and social life of not having electricity and water just for a day?
MM: At the moment we do not have full details of the cause of the blackout. Zesa should be aware of the impact and so does my ministry. Zesa has been saying they do not have enough foreign currency to import power and other operations.
PN: How clean is the water we drink?
MM: Like I said, chemical supplies are affected by power disruption. If you ask Zimphos (they supply water chemicals to Zinwa) their operations have been affected by power cuts. We however have imported chemicals to ensure that the quality of water meets world
standards. The chemicals are arriving this week.
PN: I was made to understand that no water goes unpaid for even if there is a pipe leakage. Residents near the burst pipe will be made to pay for the water. They say the cost of the lost water is divided by the number of residents living in that particular road or street.
MM: That is not the correct position. It only happens to the property owner if the burst pipe is in their yard.