So erratic is the water supply situation in Harare that some areas such as Mabvuku last received tape water as far back as 1992.
Besides residential areas, public institutions such as hospitals, clinics, and schools have also not been spared by the erratic water situation in Zimbabwe’s capital.
Consequently, residents of Harare (and especially those from high density areas) have resorted to unprotected water sources and continue to seat on a health time bomb as they are regularly exposed to diseases such as cholera and typhoid.
To add on to this, the residents are facing another huge health scare in the form of the coronavirus.
Washing hands regularly is one of the precautionary measures against the coronavirus yet clean and safe water continues to be very scarce in Harare.
Without access to clean, safe ad portable water there is a high risk of the spread of the coronavirus in Harare.
Social distancing has also become quite impossible for Harare residents given the fact that on a daily basis, the residents have to jostle for water at boreholes and wells. In this case, the directive to observe a two-meter distance in public to avoid the spread of the coronavirus is certainly disregarded.
Calls have been made for people to avoid gatherings but huge gatherings (sometimes of over a 100 people) have become a common site at boreholes and wells in Harare.
Unearthing causes of the erratic water situation in Harare
The failure by the government to invest in water infrastructure is among the leading causes of the dire water situation in Harare. Harare’s main water supply, Lake Chivero has been overwhelmed with demand for water hence repeated calls over the years (nearly two decades) for the construction of the Kunzvi Dam.
In the 2020 national budget, government allocated $259 Million for construction of the Kunzvi Dam but the amount is however considered paltry for a capital project.
Wetlands destruction and the water crisis in Harare
Linked to the lack of investment in water infrastructure is the issue of wetlands destruction in Harare.
Harare’s wetlands serve as water sources for the city hence their continued destruction (mainly due to urban agriculture and construction projects) has come with adverse effects on the water table thus affecting water availability in Harare.
Wetlands serve as giant sponges that absorb and purify water that would otherwise be mostly lost as run off. This water is slowly discharged into streams and river systems during the dry season and finds its way into major water sources supplying Harare such as Lake Chivero and Manyame Dam.
Urban agriculture on wetlands has also resulted in the siltation of Harare’s main water supply Lake Chivero. Due to siltation, Lake Chivero had reduced by 10 meters from 28 meters deep as at January 2019.
As a result of urban agriculture, there has been increased discharge of fertilizers and chemicals into Lake Chivero and this has resulted in an increased cost of treating water for Harare. In some instances, council has been failing to procure the chemicals used for water treatment ‘due to the high cost of procuring the chemicals and the development has also largely contributed to the unavailability of water in Harare.
It has to be noted that urban agriculture on wetlands comes with heavy costs and is a major contributing factor to the erratic water situation in Harare.
Construction projects being undertaken without paying regard to the need to preserve wetlands in Harare have also impacted negatively on wetlands’ natural function of storing water and discharging it into streams and rivers during dry seasons.
As an immediate solution, providing water bowsers in the most affected areas is a viable solution while the government must avail funds for treatment of water chemicals.
Going forward, investing in water infrastructure, protection and restoration of wetlands remain viable options in addressing Harare’s water crisis. Some of the recommendations on wetlands protection are listed below;
- Domestication of the Ramsar International Convention on protection of wetlands is a critical step towards protection of Harare’s wetlands. Legislative reform is equally important.
- Updating the Harare Master Plan, which was last updated in 1992 and is largely silent on wetlands and their invaluable services for the capital is critical as well.
- The Ministry of Environment, Tourism and Hospitality and the Ministry of Local Government and National Housing must direct the Harare City Council to develop Local Environment Action Plans (LEAPs) as part of efforts to protect wetlands in the capital.
- The Minister of Environment must declare wetlands as ecologically sensitive areas under the Environmental Management Act and wetlands need to be established as protected water resource, not land (Water Act)
- Wetlands Restoration is also critical and some of the benefits associated with wetlands restoration include improved water supply, water quality improvement given wetlands’ critical function to naturally purify water, sediment filtration and flood reduction
- Increasing awareness on the importance of wetlands is critical as well and this calls for concerted efforts from environmentalists, council as well as the Ministry of Environment and other critical stakeholders
Implementation of recommendations made by the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Environment to Parliament in February this year is very critical. Some of the recommendations by the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee include the following;
- The re-establishment of the National Environmental Council, as an expert advisory council to the Minister;
- The establishment of an Environmental Commission, as an independent commission to report on environmental issues; and the establishment of an Environmental Tribunal with punitive jurisdiction over violations of environmental laws:
- The establishment of a specialized Environmental Police Unit with expertise on environmental issues
- The Ministry of Environment must review and update the National Environmental Plan, and to develop Local Authority Environmental Action Plans, as recommended, in a manner recognizing the importance and protection of wetlands.
-The Minister of Environment to map all wetlands, with expert input, and have their territorial footprint gazette by December 2020.
– Legislative reform which provides that all development on wetlands be prohibited except in the most exceptional circumstances where the onus lie on the developer to approach the courts proving why development on wetlands is in the public interest; and that development be stopped once legal proceedings challenging construction on a prima facie wetland have been initiated.