Residents of Ward 18 in the northern suburbs of Harare, including Borrowdale, are involved in an emotive debate about water supply in the area. Their complaints to council at a meeting in May also brought to light a possible link between the destruction of wetlands and a doubling in the number of cancer cases recorded annually since 2007.
The open meeting between residents, the Borrowdale Residents and Ratepayers Association (BRRA) and council was held to resolve pressing issues in the ward. Residents in attendance expressed their disappointment at how the City of Harare (CoH) has been handling the issue of water supply in the area.
“Despite paying the highest rates in the city, Borrowdale and its surrounding suburbs have not been receiving a drop from the city’s water supply lines,” said Rusty Markham Councillor for Ward 18.
“We have gone for more than 10 years now and the situation has not changed,” he lamented.
Another resident, Nyaru Mandishona, said the city must now come up with a firm position on how it is going to resolve the water issue.
“We hear that funds are being diverted to buy cars while critical issues such as water supply are not being resolved. Something must be wrong at council,” she said.
However, the acting director of the CoH water department, Clifford Chisango, said that the situation is going to change soon as the city rehabilitates the Morton Jaffray water treatment works in an effort to reach its original capacity of 614 mega litres per day.
Chisango said that by August of this year some parts of the suburbs will be receiving water twice a week until the completion of the rehabilitation in March 2016.
He agreed with the World Bank assessment that with better management there is definitely enough water available to supply Harare. The World Bank is set to help fund the city’s water rehabilitation process.
“If the city put proper management tools in place, such as the pre-paid water metering, stringent collection measures, stamping out leakages and controlling pollution, the city will be a position to pump close to 700 mega litres per day,” said Chisango.
Mayor of Harare Bernard Manyenyeni told the meeting that contrary to what has been reported in the press, the solution to Harare’s water woes requires a national approach.
“We are feeling the effects of three decades of deterioration of infrastructure and the current council cannot do it alone,” Mayor Manyenyeni said. “Unfortunately we are doing a lot of fire-fighting at Town House.”
Until the late 1980s Harare had a functioning water system, with access to potable water for 85% of the population. The system of pipes and sewers has had almost no maintenance since then, and the re-sulting deterioration has combined with a rise in population to lead to a water supply that is sporadic at best, and often contaminated.
Nobel Laureate Professor Magadza, a biologist and leading expert on inland water, highlighted the complexity of the problem.“The issue of water in Harare is multifaceted. There are issues of climatic change, management and infrastructure, sanitation, and pollution in nature,” he said. “But what has been overlooked is where ourwater is coming from,” he added, referring to Harare’s primary water source, Lake Chivero.
Professor Magadza went on to explain the dangers of the eutrophication of Lake Chivero. Eutrophication is the process by which nutrients are washed off the land into a body of water causing a blooming of algae and plant life. Of particular concern in Chivero is the Microcystus genus of blue-green algae which produces toxins that are harmful to humans and animals alike. The concentrations of the toxin in Lake Chivero were investigated in 2003.
“These concentrations are the highest recorded to date for the lake, raising concerns about the possible effects of the toxin on the health of people who are drinking the water. Cancer cases are rising at an alarming rate,” said Professor Magadza.
According to the Cancer Association of Zimbabwe (CAZ), the country is currently recording an average 7,000 new cancer cases annually compared to 3,349 registered in 2007.
“Based on these study results, there is a need to control eutrophication, reducing algal blooms in order to prevent their potentially detrimental effects from blue-green algal toxins produced under such conditions, and this job can easily be done by wetlands,” said Professor Magadza.
Professor Magadza said that no amount of purification can offset the high levels of eutrophication in Lake Chivero if the issue of wetlands is not addressed. Wetlands provide a natural filtration system that prevents runoff, catching the nutrients that cause eutrophication, and the silt that is reducing Chivero’s capacity.
The city should take a number of steps to protect its wetlands, including investing in low-cost sanitation and water strategies, and educating communities so that they appreciate where their water comes from.
Meanwhile, the BRRA is looking for volunteers to join in its efforts to assist the CoH. The volunteers will be expected to form a number of committees that include health, water wetlands and boreholes, rates and legal, and roads, electricity and security.
“We have to do something in our communities before things deteriorate further,” says councillor for Ward 18, Allan ‘Rusty’ Markham.
To get involved contact: Marek Dergiman, BRRA Chairman: 0712702674; Allan ‘Rusty’ Markham, Ward 18 Councillor: 0772 278 460
Photo: Development on Borrowdale Vlei continues at full steam despite scientific consensus that wetland destruction will have dire effects on the city’s water supply. (Graham van de Ruit)