Asignificant number of residents in Cowdray Park, one of Bulawayo’s largest high-density suburbs, depend on flowing sewage water from burst pipes to make their small-scale farming endeavours a reality, The Standard Style can reveal.
By Kennedy Nyavaya
Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second largest city, has had a perennial water crisis in the past decade, a situation which resulted in relevant authorities imposing a clampdown on how residents connected to the water system use the resource.
One of the measures in place is the prohibition of hosepipe/irrigation watering of backyard gardens.
This means that low-income residents headed by mostly the unemployed have to find alternatives to avoid prosecution or a financially crippling water bill at the end of each month.
In the case of Cowdray Park, some residents are not even connected to the city’s water system while others have been cut off for failure to pay monthly bills.
“We are sinking in poverty here and everyone needs a garden because most families cannot afford to pay for many things without the gardens,” says one of the small-scale farmers, Scotch Phiri.
Phiri, who is way past retirement age, hardly has other means for life sustenance aside from his gardens on the banks of a sewer stream located less than five minutes from his house.
On good days Phiri sells enough to cover his family’s immediate needs, but currently a looming sewer water shortage has left him in pangs, pondering over the next move for his floundering business.
“This stream brings contaminated water, I will not tell a lie. However, that is where we get our produce and sometimes when the water is blocked, we struggle to water our vegetables,” he explained the bold practice of extracting water from such a dirty source.
Not only is it a health risk to them as they use bare hands to cultivate, but it has also resulted in brushes with the local law enforcement agents.
“Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority rangers are giving us a hard time saying you have no licensing to do this, but this is where our livelihoods depend on and with such a clampdown where will we get money to pay our bills?” he queried.
According to Phiri, the gardens produce fresh vegetables like rape, tomatoes and onions, making them a huge component for food security in the area as virtually all households are benefiting directly or indirectly.
“People buy our vegetables and we get money to survive, but now because we are struggling to produce people are walking many kilometres to nearby farms where all this water flows to,” said Phiri.
Cowdray Park, which is still on an expansion course, is believed to be home to more than 76 500 residents from the near 7 000 housing units.
Apart from being an eyesore to many, the different sewage streams have become an intergral source of livelihood, but with some consumers not even aware.
Ward 28 councillor Collet Ndlovu on Friday said the gardeners were a menace and breaching the law to avoid paying council’s stipulated land fees for garden spaces.
“Those people are contravening the law because if you look at it we are 30 metres from the stream, but they do it in the evening and in private spaces to evade the law enforcers,” said Ndlovu.
“When council gives spaces there needs to be a borehole and those people are running away from fees that are paid for the land.”
However, it is not Bulawayo City Council, which drills these boreholes, but non-governmental organisations that commission them as donations.
But, council allocates land, which the small-scale farmers have to pay for to operate although of late they have not been servicing the few facilities that are already available.
“This is what we have been talking about recently because council had stopped servicing the boreholes which people’s lives depend on,” said Ndlovu.
Phiri and a group of fellow farmers may have to walk for kilometres to access the nearest borehole that is if they also have the money to pay the compulsory fees.
Under the name of Siphumelele Garden Project, they have approached Bulwayo City Council for space so that the land near their homes can be allocated to them, but that has been on paper for more than two years now.
“We told them we need help because life is unbearable without gardens so they said we should bring the names of people whom we have formed a co-operative with so we can officially get the space,” Phin said.
At one point they were told there was a huge rock under their current land but Phiri insists that should not be an impediment as he is convinced it is only a ploy to give them space far from where they are currently, if indeed the authorities fulfil their promises.
“I asked what we would do on the issue of water if they give us the space. they then said we would have to find our own means,” he said gloomily.
Phiri recalled how the process used to be better before the turn of the millennium when he influenced the commissioning of boreholes in Pumula, another high-density suburb.
“I wanted to do the same here but I am failing because I am a bit old and running out of ideas,” he rued.
Efforts to get comment from the area’s Member of Parliament Ntandoyenkosi Mlilo did not yield results, but he was once quoted by our sister paper Southern Eye saying “Cowdray Park is a rural set-up in an urban environment”.
“Ward 28 [Cowdray Park] is more of a rural set-up in an urban environment, this is characterised by Blair toilets, no electricity, no access roads and no communal taps for water,” Mlilo said.
This means that food security is not guaranteed for the community consisting of mostly vulnerable groups including children and women.
The United Nations report on Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 aimed at attaining “access to safe water and sanitation and sound management of freshwater ecosystems” for the benefit of human health and environmental sustainability as well as economic prosperity, noted that water access was still a challenge for more than two billion people especially in developing countries.
“More than two billion people globally are living in countries with excess water stress, defined as the ratio of total freshwater withdrawn to total renewable freshwater resources above a threshold of 25%,” read the report.
Locally, both urban and rural councils are failing in their efforts to maintain water supplies and other services for the rapidly growing populations for which they are responsible.
The water crisis in urban centres, as in the case of Cowdray Park, is fast becoming a bigger crisis in many ways and should be treated as such by everyone concerned.
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