Harare boreholes are drying up earlier every year and this dry season many residents will be praying that their boreholes do not run dry. The situation is particularly worrying for residents in the northeast of the city who do not receive municipal water. The groundwater in these areas is more depleted than in the rest of the city. For example, groundwater levels in Marlborough (western Harare), where residents are supplied with piped water, vary between 5 and 11 meters below ground level. In Mandara (northeast), which is not supplied with piped water, this drops hugely to between 16 and 22 meters deep. Clearly in Mandara the groundwater reservoir is already severely depleted. Other areas in the northeast of the city that have not received municipal water for a decade will also have depleted groundwater reservoirs. Groundwater has been the only water source in these areas for the past decade and now it is nearing exhaustion.
For some, the groundwater resource is already exhausted. They can pump for a limited time each day to meet very basic domestic demand. In the late dry season, these boreholes often cease to deliver any water at all. Once the borehole dries up, the value of the property crashes and it becomes unsellable.
What about the ‘recharge’ to the groundwater system from rainfall in Harare? Mucheneri (2013) estimated that groundwater recharge amounts to 20,000m3 per year over a 1 km2 area. In the northeast part of the city (±150 households per km2) this amounts to approximately 400 litres per household per day throughout the year. This is only just enough for domestic use, but not for watering your gardens. At present, Harare residents use about 388 litres per head per day, although about 60% of this is estimated to be leakage from the distribution network. Clearly there is a need to be very conservative with our groundwater use. Groundwater is a common pool resource and the behaviour of every user has an impact on other users.
One positive step has been that bulk water sellers must source their water from outside municipal boundaries. However, there are few other restrictions that the authorities can easily apply to stabilize the situation. Public understanding and civic education on groundwater is lacking and water conservation is not widely practiced. Many people with functional boreholes keep their lawns green throughout the year and even water their verges. Demand is increasing with new housing developments continually taking place. There is certainly no public campaign educating residents and urging them to conserve groundwater.
Numerous reports of borehole failures suggest that the groundwater under northeast Harare is nearing exhaustion and will probably run dry for most users within the next 5 years or less. The solution to Harare’s water woes is not an ever-increasing dependence on a fragile and already exhausted groundwater resource. It is a resumption of municipal water supplies to the entire city. Residents must take action to engage with the municipal authorities for this in the shortest possible time frame.
Residents can submit reports of failure of piped water supplies, water leaks, dry boreholes, illegal bulk water abstraction etc. to www.hararemunicipalityservices.crowdmap.com which is a website dedicated to municipal service delivery in Harare. There are on-going activities to introduce this site to councillors and municipal authorities.
Submitted by Richard Owen: hydrologist and founder of Harare Municipality Services. [email protected]