Water: Its shortage, non-treatment and pricing

As a resident Zimbabwean here is probably the most useful piece of information you will hear this Sunday. Did you know that Zimbabwe has over 10 000 private and public 2 000 storage dams, of which are owned and controlled by government though the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (Zinwa) and of these, 400 are considered to be big dams by international standards.


While generally structurally sound, many of these dams need refurbishment and like the Mupudzi Dam in Zimunya area, Mutare, the full potential of these dams for irrigation is not yet fully utilised. These 10 000 dams store over 5 000 mega litres of water and are located within seven catchments namely Gwayi, Manyame, Mazowe, Mzingwane, Runde, Sanyati and Save. Yet many councils across the country are battling to supply affordable water to their citizens. Is this such a tall order?

As far back as 2004 more than 50% of Harare residents’ three million people have persistently not had reliable water supplies or had any at all. Many residents have had to endure the indignity of having raw sewage in their water the few times they have had any flowing through. As if that is not enough, the city fathers have been running out of foreign currency to buy the required chemicals to treat its water. Bulawayo and other peripheral towns have endured worse.

But water shortages are not unique to Zimbabwe. Many regions around the world face water shortages in one form or the other. Although a renewable resource, water is also a finite resource. With persistent droughts and erratic rainfall patterns as a result of climate change, a steadily increasing population over the years and unchecked rural to urban migration, these and many other factors no doubt have contributed to water scarcity over the years.

Be that as it may, water shortages in the major metropolitan cities of Zimbabwe is not a Zinwa problem. There are some local authorities such as Harare, Mutare and Gweru, for example, that are in control of their water and sewer reticulation systems, whereas a number of towns and councils across the country are still dependent on Zinwa as a supplier.

In 1998 water legislation under an Act of Parliament transferred national planning functions to a new state-owned enterprise, Zinwa, which was subsequently created in 2000 under the Zinwa Act, as a wholly owned government entity tasked with the responsibility of managing the country’s water resources. At inception, Zinwa was set up to be primarily-funded through the sale of internal surface water resources behind government dams, provision of water to cities, and levying of water to large scale users.

The public dams were primarily constructed for domestic, irrigation and industrial water supply. During the pre-1980 period, secondary uses for recreation and tourism were established but a critical mass was never really achieved through managed and systematic commercialisation. Many of the public dams were stocked with indigenous and alien fish species (usually referred to as wild fish), predominantly for recreational angling.

Before Zinwa, a 1996 publication entitled, Study of Water Resources in Zimbabwe by Ake Nilsson and Amanda Hammer, funded by the Swedish International Development Co-operation Agency, highlighted the two important scenarios for Zimbabwe’s future water development.

The worst case scenario indicated that “given the projected increase of population, and assuming the present per-capita development of water, the internal surface water resources would be sufficient only up to 2025. If the assumed potential of international rivers is added, there would be enough water up to 2040.”

The good and positive case scenario which took into consideration a holistic view on water resources, indicated that “by improving planning and management institutions and enhancing their capacity, by putting a proper pricing strategy in place, and by combining a careful further development of new resources with a massive effort in conservation, recycling and water use efficiency, it was for the internal surface water resources for Zimbabwe to be enough up to 2050 and even beyond.”

Yet 22 years later in 2018, it would appear, there is either no will or there lacks institutional capability and capacity for dealing with water in its broader environmental and cyclical context. It would appear that the primary issues of catchment conservation, dam maintenance, water harvesting and environmental impacts on water development still do not receive adequate attention.

Last year in April 2017, a Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Local Government, Public Works and National Housing, led by Mutasa South Legislator, Irene Zindi, concluded that Zinwa had failed in its mandate of managing the country’s water resources. After visiting Bulawayo, Chitungwiza, Hwange, Lupane, Umguza, Binga, Gwanda, Beitbridge, Chiredzi and Masvingo councils, the committee noted and recommended that Zinwa cede the provision of potable water and sewer reticulation to 92 local authorities for the following reasons, amongst many:

As Zinwa was failing to collect almost $150 million of arrears from councils, it had resorted to the erratic termination of water to councils as a lever to get them to pay their arrears. As a result, residents were resorting to using hazardous water sources.

It was noted for further investigation that while Zinwa was responsible for the management of the water and sewer reticulation systems of the local authorities, they were not maintaining most of the sites.

As a result, the committee were now of the considered view that all local authorities would better manage their own sewer and water reticulation systems away from Zinwa.

Ideally, Zinwa would supply raw water to local authorities at a reasonable price so that local authorities would be able to supply to residents at cheaper prices.

Many water and sewer plants were down, resulting in pollution of water bodies soliciting the Environmental Management Agency fines.

Zinwa treated water was expensive. A case in point was the Gwanda rural council where Zinwa was charging treated water at a cost of $0,81 per cubic metre, forcing the council to charge residents $0,83 per cubic metre.

The Beitbridge council which had enough water from the Limpopo River but was being arm twisted by Zinwa through water rationing in order to force it to pay monthly installments of
$70 000 to retire a $12 million debt. Meanwhile, Beitbridge already had a water treatment plant that was completed in 2007, but was still to be commissioned because there was an outstanding amount of $1,6 million due to the contractor. The committee found it disturbing and unacceptable that the plant was already depreciating before being used.

Chiredzi council was being charged by Zinwa for 15 mega litres of water daily regardless of whether the water had been consumed or not. Apparently, about 50% of the water supplied was lost through leakages and could not be accounted for, resulting in revenue lost.

Over and above this, some of the country’s dams have been collapsing due to long periods of non-maintenance. For a whole host of reasons, government has been unable to fund their maintenance. As the rainfall period ended during the first quarter of 2017, at least 174 out of 10 000 dams had ruptured, threatening the safety neighbouring residents. So when councils fail to regularise their financial affairs with Zinwa for whatever reason, Zinwa’s operations are severely hampered.

Meanwhile, last week Harare mayor Bernard Manyenyeni warned residents against drinking council water as the council had failed to secure adequate foreign currency reserves to purchase the necessary volumes of the main chemicals — aluminium sulphate‚ sulphuric acid‚ HTH Chlorine and activated carbon — required in the water purification process, hence the dirty water coming out of taps. When a mayor finally plucks up enough courage to confirm a truth we have all known about for more than a decade, then we are certainly far down the gutter than we thought we were.

Water is life. Without it all life under and above the soil is compromised. Principle No. 4 of the United Nations, 1992 Agenda 21 Principles relevant to the water sector says, “water has an economic value in all its competing uses and should be recognised as an economic good.” Within this principle, “it is vital to recognise first the basic right of all human beings to have access to clean water and sanitation at an affordable price…” No other human right is more important than the provision of clean and affordable water, for without its provision under these circumstances, citizens’ dignities are stripped away.

The armed struggle of the liberation of Zimbabwe was first and foremost about the restoration of peoples’ dignities. When there is no water in household taps, in permissible wells and boreholes at Parirenyatwa Hospital and many other health facilities around country, our collective self-esteem, self-worth and self-respect are being usurped. It is brutal and violent as much as it is debilitating. It is like maiming someone with a knobkerrie and abandoning them in the veld, to die alone.

Zimbabweans deserve better champions of water management, preservation and delivery. When decision-makers carry on “business as usual” displaying what appears to be a reckless and laissez-faire attitude towards water management, completely oblivious to this dehumanisation on a massive scale where 78-year-olds wake up at 2am in the morning to fill buckets and bath tubs with water, after hearing open taps run of water, having had weeks if not months of dryness, then our very own humanity is under threat. Water is life. There is no other element, with the exception of the air we breathe that is as important in sustaining life as water.

 Gloria Ndoro-Mkombachoto is an entrepreneur and a regional enterprise development consultant. Her experience spans a period of over 25 years. She can be contacted at totemshumba@gmail.com

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