MPs witness sewage “horror” first hand

HARARE - The state-owned press reported last week that ZINWA had sharply increased water penalties for domestic consumers who use more than 20 cubic metres a month. But the painful irony for most Zimbabweans is that water is never available on demand. Even the posh northern suburbs go for three days without water. In October they went for two weeks without electricity as well.

In Bulawayo, the local authority has imposed stringent water rationing measures in poor townships, allowing residents supplies for a few hours every three days. Those fortunate enough to have boreholes sell water to people desperate for the precious commodity.

During a recent tour of Highfield, Glen View, Budiriro and Chitungwiza high density suburbs, members of parliament were told of a sharp rise in cases of water-related ailments such as diarrhoea.

Residents complained of high water bills despite going for days on end with no water, and of raw sewage flowing in front of their houses, posing a threat to the health of their families.

The water shortages have been attributed partly to the failure by the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority, ZESA, to provide power. “As you know, no power means no pumping [of water] so we are holding meetings with the ministry [responsible for power distribution] to spare areas with water pumps [from power cuts],” Deputy Minister for Water Resources and Infrastructural Development Walter Mzembi told Chitungwiza residents during the October 23 tour by parliamentarians.

He said the government was setting up a framework, which would put residents “at the centre of water management systems” so that they could appreciate the problems ZINWA was facing.

Unfortunately, that is not what the residents and ratepayers in the country’s major cities where water distribution and the sewage system have been taken over by ZINWA want. They say this has pushed them out of the equation.

Previously, residents and ratepayers elected representatives to local government in the form of ward councillors. In this way, they were able to periodically express their support or disapproval through biennial elections. But government has removed these institutions and replaced them with a state company seen to represent the interests of government, not those of ratepayers. ZINWA has neither their support nor their sympathy, so they are not interested in its problems.

In his latest monetary statement on October 1, Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono allocated a staggering Z$14 trillion (approximately US$14 million) to ZINWA to refurbish major waterworks across the country and improve the sewage system. So far there has been no noticeable change, as the touring MPs discovered on their tour.

They were horrified when they came face-to-face for the first time with what for most poor residents has become a “normal” life. None of the daily reports in the state-controlled media had prepared them for the degree of squalor they saw.

Anthony Mapurisa in Highfield told the MPs he had been living with the stench of the raw sewage flowing close to his house for a whole month. Another said he had been doing so for the past three months. As the residents spoke, the smell of the sewage flowing in front of the shocked MPs was so overpowering that one reportedly vomited. – IWPR

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