Harare water woes: report paints a dismal picture

Zimbabwe’s capital city has a long way to go before it can reclaim its former glitter, or at the very least assure its growing population of a dependable and safe water supply.

If there is no water and sewers are dead, I now don’t know where to start: distressed councillor.
If there is no water and sewers are dead, I now don’t know where to start: distressed councillor.

A recent report contains gloomy prospects for immediate recovery following decades of neglect and policy uncertainty that has afflicted the city and its surrounding metropolis, in particular the satellite towns of Norton, Epworth, Chitungwiza and Ruwa. An estimated four million people live in the area.

Despite efforts by the African Development Bank (AfDB) and a recent $144 million loan from China to improve water inflows into businesses and homes, there still exists a serious supply gap that is enough to leave half the city’s residents without a regular source for daily use.

Harare built its first water treatment plant in 1953. With population increases, the plant — named after one Morton Jaffray — was upgraded in 1976 and in 1994 with a design capacity of cleaning 614 mega-litres a day. A separate unit, holding 90 mega-litres, was commissioned at the Harava/Seke Dam in Chitungwiza in 1973 to help meet the growing demand. It costs the city $1,1 million to pump the water every month, after spending another $3m to clean it up.

‘Half the water is lost to leakages and erratic bursts”

“Today, Harare needs at least 1 200 mega-litres a day,” said a senior engineer at the waterworks. “It is highly unlikely that Harare can meet that target unless the city invests billions of dollars in the city’s water development. The total design treatment capacity must increase from the 704 mega-litres, otherwise a shortage shall always be there.”

Christopher Zvobgo, the director of water, presented a report to new councillors last week, a copy of which was obtained by The Zimbabwean. According to the report, Harare is feeding 500 mega-litres into an old 6,000 km city-pipe network. But because the pipes are over 50 years old and badly corroded, half the water is lost to leakages and erratic bursts.

Of the half that manages to wade into homes and businesses, a third is further lost along another 5,000 dilapidated sewer pipeline network for the same reason.

To compound the problem, the city is failing to account for an overall 62 percent of the water that makes it past the leaks. Technically classified as non-revenue water, what this means is that the water is either stolen or simply its consumers cannot be traced. Bulk water metres for each area in the entire city no longer work; and out of the city’s 200,000 registered water connections, meters and gauges at 100,000 places have broken down – making it impossible to assess consumption levels, whenever there is anything available.

Councillors, at an induction workshop, were said to have been shocked by the challenges the city was facing, especially after listening to reports from other heads of department at Town House on the state of Harare.

“The councillors failed to understand why the systems were left to collapse to such a dangerous level over the years,” said an official at the meeting. “The city’s revenue base has been shrinking over the years because of corruption, political interference from central government and general neglect.”

Harare’s infrastructure was originally planned and laid out to service less than 200,000 residents, said Peter Mlambo, a town planner.

“Nothing was done to prepare the population surge into the city, especially after 1980.”

“The picture is bad,” said a councillor elected on July 31. “I came in thinking I could fight to have council build more houses for the people in my ward. But, if there is no water and sewers are dead, I now don’t know where to start,” she said.

Zvobgo says the sewage treatment system was in an equally bad shape, leading to serious pollution of the main catchment areas for Harare’s water sources. Designed to process 219 mega-litres, the system was only able to process 72 mega-litres a day. The rest, well, just disappears into the ground.

Most of the treatment ponds are clogged up and were abandoned decades ago. “Millions of dollars are needed to rehabilitate them,” he said.

“Crowborough, Lyndhurst, Gwebi, and Southern Areas waste water schemes would need $500,000. (There is a need to) complete and commission a sludge disposal and water reclamation plant at a cost of $7million.”

Zvobgo suggested that apart from putting right the damage already in place, Harare (at the current population level) needed $1,6 billion to tap an additional 760 mega-litres of water from Kunzvi, Musami and Muda dams. But doing so before the pipe network was replaced would hardly yield any desirable results or lead to a positive change. The total rehabilitation of existing waterworks and wastewater augmentation schemes would take more than three years.

“The total rehabilitation of Morton Jaffray and Prince Edward will cost $49 million over a three-year period. This would add 160 mega-litres of water to the public and bring $1,5 million additional revenue to the council every month,” said Zvobgo. Work on the sewage treatment works would require $27million during the same period.

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