HomeLocalBulawayo’s crippling water crisis puts lives in danger

Bulawayo’s crippling water crisis puts lives in danger

IF he had the maps showing the location of Bulawayo’s water reticulation pipes, John Mpofu says he would have by now dug a hole, then drill into one of them to ensure a steady supply of the precious liquid.

news in depth BY MTHANDAZO NYONI

Bulawayo councillors, staff members and journalists praying at Umzingwane Dam for the rains and for God to intervene in the water crisis.
Bulawayo councillors, staff members and journalists praying at Umzingwane Dam for the rains and for God to intervene in the water crisis.

His tears of joy after the birth of his twins recently turned into anger in a flash.

Mpofu’s wife, Nombulelo, had just had a mini celebration with relatives to welcome her new born twins following a successful caesarean operation at Mpilo Central Hospital.

After the baby welcome celebrations at their Entumbane home, Mpofu had prepared a delicious meal for her before she could take a bath.

However, upon reaching the tap to fetch water, not a single drop of the precious liquid trickled out.

The Bulawayo City Council (BCC) had, again, failed to follow its water rationing timetable, much to his anger.

He exclaimed in disbelief: “How can that be? There is no water, oh my God,” he said, going back to the house wondering how his wife would cope.

As someone who had just given birth, Nombulelo needed to bath frequently to avoid contracting reproductive tract infections, as well as secondary infertility, urinary tract infections and anaemia, among a host of other diseases.

But that has become a daunting task for her as the city council has been failing to adhere to its own water rationing timetable, making life unbearable for women who have just given birth or are menstruating.

Last month council released a 48-hour water rationing regime, which it refers to as water shedding, which was soon followed up with a 72-hour schedule for weekly cuts.

Some high-density suburbs are going for over a week without receiving a single drop of the precious liquid.

“Life has become unbearable for women in Bulawayo, especially those who have given birth like me or are menstruating,” Nombulelo said.

“I need to bath frequently but that is impossible to do due to shortage of water.

“I sometimes spend a day without taking a bath, or use dirty water, thereby exposing myself to a number of diseases.”

Nombulelo said since her husband worked as a vendor, she had to leave her children in the care of a neighbour to go searching for water in neighbouring suburbs.

“Sometimes we go as far as Emakhandeni or Luveve in search of water. Even though I am in pain, I have no option but to go,” she said.

“My husband cannot leave vending to attend to house chores because if he does that, we will die of hunger.”

Nkosinothando Ncube said it was now very difficult to access water and sanitation just when they needed it the most as women.

According to WaterAid, an American-based health organisation, without safe water and sanitation, women and girls’ health “suffers and they are subjected to the humiliation of trying to find somewhere private to change”

The Bulawayo Vendors Trust said women who have just given birth cannot go for too long without clean water as this exposes their wounds to infection.

“Let us lobby government to meet its promises and obligation for clean water provision for all. Water shortages increase threat to women’s health and hygiene. Menstruating women cannot go without fresh water for too long,” it said.

In 2012, Bulawayo faced a similar water crisis that saw residents going for weeks without the precious liquid.
At one time, then Bulawayo mayor Thaba Moyo had to desperately suggest that trains be hired to ferry water from the Zambezi River.

“But as the city council, we will not sit and watch our people die due to water shortages.

“We have also made some plans to bring water from other towns or from Zambezi River using the National Railways of Zimbabwe goods trains,” he was quoted as saying.

There were also suggestions to draw water from Khami Dam, a reservoir that is heavily polluted by effluent from industries.

Some civic society activists blame the government for failing to address the water crisis, 36 years after gaining independence.

“The blame for this current crisis is mostly on the government of Zimbabwe, which has failed, after 36 years of independence, to ensure that the people of Bulawayo and other areas have adequate access to water,” said Bulawayo Progressive Residents’ Association information manager, Zibusiso Dube.

Dube said the last dam to be built to support Bulawayo was completed in the 1970s while no progress has been made on the Matabeleland Zambezi Water Project (MZWP), a 1912 idea.

The MZWP has for years been touted as the permanent solution to perennial water shortages facing Bulawayo and Matabeleland.

But lack of political will on the part of government is hampering the project.

If completed, the project would bring relief to Bulawayo and the Matabeleland region where perennial water problems have been partly blamed for de-industrialisation.

It would also benefit residents who have had to go for 72 hours each week without water as part of stringent measures to manage a severe shortage caused by low inflows into the city’s supply dams.

Bulawayo’s six supply dams —Insiza, Mtshabezi, Inyankuni, Umzingwane, Lower and Upper Ncema — are at about 30% of their collective capacity.

Already, Upper Ncema and Umzingwane dams have been decommissioned and more may follow if there is no substantial rain in their catchment areas in Matabeleland South.

Dube also accused council of failing to plan for the water crisis in order to ameliorate the effects.

“The failure by the council to adhere to its own water rationing timetable is also an indication that the local authority is failing to deal with this crisis,” he said.

Dube said the water crisis has had debilitating effects on residents’ lives, with many — particularly women and girls — now spending their productive time looking for water and queuing at boreholes.

“We have also witnessed situations where people engage in fights at public water points because of desperation. In some townships, unemployed youths have become a problem as they queue at boreholes and make residents pay to take positions close to the water point,” he said.

“People are basically having difficulties going about their lives as basic things like taking a bath, doing laundry and relieving themselves have become difficult to engage in.”

Dube said while they have not heard of any disease outbreaks, it was not irrational to fear that there could soon be outbreaks of water-borne diseases.

To solve the problem, Dube said they had been engaging council through various platforms.

“Plans are in place to engage Zinwa [Zimbabwe National Water Authority]. Our advice to BCC would be that there is need for more engagement between the local authority and residents and also to raise awareness on the water crisis so that people begin to appreciate what is going on and actively conserve water,” he said.

“In future, it is also critical to begin to act on water shortages before things spiral out of control.”

Bulawayo mayor, Martin Moyo, said even if they planned ahead, it was difficult to predict other circumstances that could militate against them providing water.

“We know that the sun burns hottest in October and November and, therefore, the rate of evaporation increases. We also cannot predict how much rain we will have this year and thus the water shedding regime,” Moyo said.

“What we are working on is the limited supplies, bearing [in mind] that we are losing water through [pipe] bursts and evaporation and also, pumping capacity is limited by lack of reliable electricity supply,” he said.

Moyo said they were always planning ahead of time and the setting up of a water shedding regime was in anticipation that things would be difficult beginning this month.

“They [critics] can call us whatever they want, but some of these things are beyond our control. We are talking about nature, and what can we do to mitigate nature, we are doing what we think is best under the circumstances.”

A dejected Nombulelo is considering christening her twins Lingadlalis’amanzi and Lomanz’aqakathekile (don’t waste water and water is precious).

“This will help me not to forget the hard time I went through this year,” she said.

A delegation of Bulawayo councillors on Friday toured the city’s drying supply dams where they also held prayers for rains.

City engineer Simela Dube said if there were no heavy rains around the dams’ catchment area in the next few days the situation in Bulawayo “would become precarious.”

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