Residents, policy makers and experts last night packed into the Highlands Presbyterian Church to discuss the water crisis in the city.
The public meeting, organised by Wetlands Survival Forum, attracted a full house, with many spilling out of the Church hall, a testament to just how big a water crisis people feel Harare is facing.
On the programme were the Mayor Bernard Manyenyeni, Engineer Hosiah Chisango from the Harare City Water Department, geologist Tim Broderick and wetlands expert Chris Magadza.
First up was Manyenyeni. He spoke about how the council is aware of the crisis but lacks money to address concerns. “We have to go out of our borders to look for money and without credibility that we can return the money the council cannot secure a loan,” he said.
Manyenyeni said the council has done a lot of planning but there is no moving forward because of the liquidity crisis.
Chisango, the Engineer who is responsible for water distribution in Harare, followed up with a presentation on how the city has failed to upgrade its water infrastructure for nearly 20 years despite the acute population growth. “The water supply infrastructure is now inadequate to supply the increasing demand,” he said.
He said that some of the infrastructure in use is over 60 years, way beyond its shelf life of 15 years. This has resulted in the city losing over half of the treated water to leakages.
Speaking of the deal with China, he said, “The deal will only increase water supply by about 15%. This means most households will not even see the difference.”
Next up was Broderick who explained how the city’s ground water is under threat from over exploitation as a result of sinking many boreholes.“We have an excess of 10,000 functional boreholes mostly in the Northern suburbs,” he said.
He said there is only between two to four percent recharge of ground water through rain, which has resulted in the dropping of the water table thus boreholes are increasingly drying up.
Chris Magadza ended the presentations by reading out Zimbabwe’s Environment Management Act on the protection of wetlands. This states that wetlands must be preserved and no other legislation supersedes their importance.
“Not even a letter from a minister can give anyone the power to build on our wetlands,” he said.
In addition, he said urban agriculture, in silting up Lake Chivero, has led to a decrease in the lake’s volume. The water body which supplies Harare and its surrounding towns has apparently decreased by at least ten metres in depth, although this is not immediately obvious by looking at the levels.
The meeting then moved into the Q&A segment. This saw a developer of the Borrowdale Mall come under fire from the audience. He said the development came about after consultation with the government and international environmentalists who ‘okayed’ the project despite it being on a wetland.He denied any alignment, direct or indirect investment, with his company by anyone in the government but hinted that the investment was worth $70 million.