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Water harvesting could cure Harare water crisis

Harare residents recently drew daggers on the local authority for the contaminated water finding its way to their homes.

By Kennedy Nyavaya

The contentious issue has remained very volatile especially after mayor Bernard Manyenyeni conceeded that tap water is being partially treated due to lack of treatment chemicals.

“Our claims that the water is chemically safe to drink will not hold if the residents cannot stand the sight of frothing or foaming, coloured water.

“This has been caused by the shortage of our main chemicals aluminium sulphate, sulphuric acid, HTH chlorine and activated carbon. Almost all our chemicals are imported and we have been caught in the crisis of forex,” Manyenyeni reportedly told stakeholders at a meeting held last month.

The water situation in Harare has deteriorated since 2013, with some suburbs going for years without running water, while in other areas residents receive dirty and smelly water.

Manyenyeni said: “We also suffer from the issue of having to pollute our raw water upstream then harvest it downstream when its quality is at its poorest. We need seven chemicals (to treat our water), when other councils can get quality water with just two chemicals.”

Meanwhile there are reports that private boreholes in the city are also pumping contaminated water.

However, while the issue has exposed economic unpreparedness of both the city fathers and the government, it appears residents may have to create their own solutions to deal with the problem.

One such way is rainwater harvesting which can be loosely explained as: “the collection of water from surfaces on which rain falls and subsequently storing this water for later use.”

While this may seem an easy water collection method that has been around since time immemorial, it is not being practised extensively in the country especially at individual level.

By capturing water directly, people can significantly reduce dependence on water storage dams. This would also place less stress on official water sources and can potentially reduce the need to expand them or build new ones.
In Harare’s case the population has grown significantly surpassing what dams had initially been meant to sustain. This has resulted in some areas having to do without tap water for years while the authorities now have to recycle sewer water which will be heavily polluted.

Not only is water harvesting good for one’s pockets by minimising rates payable to local authorities, it also provides fresh water.

In other places water collected is redirected to a well, borehole or reservoir for storage. The water can be used for watering gardens, livestock and domestic use. The harvested water, if safely stored, can also be used for drinking.

Rainwater harvesting might help raise the country’s depleted underground water levels since most communities now rely on borehole water.

Water shortage can cause civil strife, according to the United Nations deputy secretary-general Jan Eliasson.

“Water easily becomes a source of conflict when this precious resource is inequitably allocated,” Eliasson said in a statement last year.

Diseases like cholera can also emanate from water shortages and contamination, hence the need for all to take advantage of the rainy season and harvest the resource.

“In Harare we have Lake Chivero and Darwendale Dam, which are highly polluted surface water bodies,” Upper Manyame Sub-Catchment Council compliance assistant Susan Nyarugwe was quoted as saying at the commemorations of the UN World Water Day last year.

Not even boreholes have been spared because of burst pipes which are spilling sewer into underground aquifers.

This spells danger for the future of Zimbabwe, but what should be done?

“We need national dialogue which can even be attended by the president himself because the nation is in a mess on issues of pollution, especially in the cities of Harare and Masvingo,” suggests Pianos Chadya, the founder and chairperson of Friends and Family of Rivers and Lakes in Zimbabwe.

Chadya believes conversations can help foster solutions like water harvesting in dire situations like Harare currently finds itself in.

While areas like Bulawayo are known for clean tap water, the resource is scarce, making it an offence to use it for other activities like gardening. This has prompted people to use sewage streams as water sources in what could trigger a health time bomb.

On the other hand, Chadya laments the pollution of water bodies, which he said means that “the next generation is doomed” at a time the African Union is lobbying for water security by 2050.

“This pushes us to say we need to volunteer more.” he said.

Water is a primary resource for every development, including urbanisation, retailing, tourism or agriculture among others, making its availability prerequisite.

It is high time government, local authorities and citizens’ work together to avert both water shortages and contamination of the resource.

A reflection among all Zimbabweans to rethink what role we can play to meet local authorities halfway in their efforts is an essential starting point.

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