Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell. Edward Abbey

05 October 2006

Water woes in Harare


HARARE - Shouts of "water, water, water," stir frenetic activity in the affluent suburb of Marlborough in the Zimbabwean capital, Harare.

Ntando Ndlovu, 10, runs down the street spreading the news that the water, unavailable for three weeks, has been reconnected and within minutes men, women and children spill out of their houses and start filling buckets, pots and even cups with water from the standpipes in the street, while baths fill up inside the houses to store the increasingly rare liquid.

The spillover creates a novelty for Ntando and his friends, who splash and dance in the puddles, but their playtime is cut short as the water splutters and runs dry a few minutes later, and the summer heat returns.

Ntando's mother, Sarah Ndlovu, is grateful. "I am happy that I managed to fill a few containers with water, and I hope this time the water will only be gone for a few days instead of more than 21 days," she told IRIN.

Although Harare's reservoirs are near capacity, the water scarcity is being blamed on Zimbabwe's foreign currency shortage, which makes it difficult for the government to afford water treatment chemicals and the necessary spare parts to keep an ageing reticulation system going.

Clean drinking water has joined the growing list of shortages in Zimbabwe, which also includes fuel and food.

Until recently the treatment and distribution of water was the responsibility of the Harare municipality, but in 2003 residents voted for executive mayor Elias Mudzuri, of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

Mudzuri was fired in September 2003 after allegations of mismanagement, and replaced by an unelected commission staffed by ZANU-PF government sympathisers and technocrats. The authority to distribute water was handed to the Zimbabwe National Water Authority, but the city fathers have failed to deliver a consistent and adequate water supply to residents.

Precious Shumba, spokesperson for the Combined Harare Residents Association, told IRIN that some Harare suburbs have gone without water for nearly three months and, when it was available, the quality had deteriorated substantially compared to previously.

Shumba blamed the water shortages on the commission, which was appointed and not democratically elected and therefore had no obligation to deliver decent municipal services. "The hardest hit areas are the affluent northern suburbs, like Borrowdale, Chisipite and Highlands, although some high-density suburbs, like Mbare, Mabvuku and Rugare, have also been hard-hit by water cuts."

John Mupani, an enterprising resident, has identified an opportunity for easy money in an economy with an annual inflation rate of 1,200 percent - the world's highest - and unemployment above 70 percent.

"Although I am employed elsewhere in the CBD [central business district], I have employed four people who drive my water bowser to the rich suburbs, where they sell water to residents of that area. I have given them powers to be flexible with their pricing and I cannot complain about the profit which I am making."

Selling water is not restricted to the richer suburbs; households in poorer neighbourhoods are also targeted by the water entrepreneurs, but the price is lower. Formal business has also cashed in. TAISEK Engineering, a borehole company, says it is doing a "roaring business".

"After experiencing these horrible water cuts, Harare residents, especially those who live in houses built on large pieces of land, have begun seeking our services," a company official told IRIN. "The amount of business that we are doing is so amazing because there has been a huge surge in demand for boreholes."

Residents in poorer neighbourhoods are sinking shallow open wells, which have become a feature of "high-density suburbs". An influx of people since May last year, when the government launched Operation Murambatsvina - a sudden campaign to purge informal settlements, which left more than 700,000 people homeless or without a livelihood - has increased pressure on already stretched resources.

Untreated water sources have been blamed for a recent outbreak of scabies in poor neighbourhoods. Several Harare schools have stopped children affected by scabies from attending school and there have been reports of diarrhoea outbreaks, attributed to contaminated water supplies.

The minister responsible for Water Resources, Munacho Mutezo, has admitted that the state agency was failing to supply water, saying: "We are asking consumers to bear with us while we are battling to provide enough water for everybody."


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