Zimbabwe’s capital city, Harare, faces a dire water situation as the authorities struggle to provide water to the millions of residents.
The impacted areas go beyond Harare to include the Metropolitan area covering Chitungwiza, Norton, Ruwa and Epworth creating a vast population of around 4,5 million people.
The reasons for the worsening and persistent challenge vary but they can be reduced to three.
Harare Council currently has an installed capacity to produce 704 mega litres against a demand of 800 mega litres.
Thus at its best and full capacity the capital cannot even meet the total demand!
When all the other areas which don’t have water supply are included in the matrix the demand goes up to 1300 mega litres creating a shortage of about 596 mega litres.
The poorly maintained plants and pipes for water treatment have also been struggling to function, constantly breaking down and plunging the capital into fake droughts.
The capital’s water infrastructure has essentially decayed and Local Government Minister July Moto admitted the same in 2018.
Over 5000 kilometres of the sewage pipes have reportedly outlived their lifespan with some over 60 years old.
Council was previously given US$6,7 million to rehabilitate the various burst water pipes but that has not been enough.
Efforts to deal with the issue have been as usual, painstakingly laboured, bureaucratic and stunted.
Moyo said Government was working with councils to set up a committee which would itself create an organisation to look after water and sewer across greater Harare.
Excellent but what the hell is that?
It’s a sordid plan lacking ingenuity, focus and urgency.
Council has literally failed to come up with any creative means to deal with the problem and remains a sitting duck, waiting for the next disaster to strike.
Harare residents spend month with no running water
'The most frightening part is that Budiriro and Glen View suburbs which were the epicentres of the cholera outbreak in 2008-2009 have had inconsistent water supplies'https://t.co/gFif4H6F0s
— ZimLive (@zimlive) August 29, 2022
Besides this capacity weakness, Harare is also facing challenges in procuring chemicals needed to make the water safe and clean for consumption.
In 1960, when Harare’s water treatment units were built, only chemicals such as liquid aluminium sulphate (alum), lime and chlorine were used to treat the capital’s water, at low dosages.
The number of water treatment chemicals has since increased from 3 to as many as 9 as the water conditions in Lake Chivero have grown worse.
In 2020 government declared that Zimphos, a unit of Chemplex Corporation, was to be the sole provider of the chemicals to Harare.
Zimphos is currently the country’s sole producer of aluminium sulphate for municipal water treatment, sulphuric acid and other industrial chemicals.
However, it has faced challenges to acquire operating capital and ultimately to acquire chemicals for production from South African suppliers.
The company has been struggling to raise operating capital as its production of the core products such as fertiliser have suffered, falling to 100 000 tonnes per annum from a peak of 250 000 in 2012.
In 2017 the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe availed US$5 million to recapitalise the company as it sought to refurbish its plant.
That wasn’t enough and in 2019 the Industrial Development Corporation (IDCZ) appointed EY Zimbabwe as financial advisors to assist the entity with privatisation process after revelations that a Russian firm could acquire the entity.
At that time it was revealed that the entity required recapitalisation in the order of US$70 million to US$100 million in order to operate optimally.
Among named suitors were the Russian firm, Uralchem and Egypt’s Polyserve.
However red tape by the government proved too much for the Russians who moved to Angola and are building a US$1,3 billion fertiliser plant there.
The economy remains the chief culprit in any equation as the government has failed to turn it around.
Inflation continues spiralling and many councils, Harare included, have had to announce payments which will be paid in US$ to try and mitigate against the excesses of a runaway rate.
The shortage and need for foreign currency has also damaged efforts to deal with water challenges as the council is struggling to access forex since residents pay in the local currency.
Harare Mayor Jacob Mafume revealed that Government has not made it easy for them to access forex so as to buy chemicals from South Africa.
In failing to tame the economy government has become a central player in the macro issues around water problems for Harare.
Residents are struggling to pay their bills and resultantly Harare has no money to acquire new water infrastructure or chemicals.
It’s a cyclical conundrum which has been worsened by the constant politicking and propaganda flying around as both involved political parties dish responsibility.
However, at the end of the day Harare residents continue living on the brink of another cholera outbreak or the better devil of mere water shortages.