Boreholes drying up in Harare have made news headlines in the past and. This led to bulk water suppliers being directed by the government in 2014 to only abstract water from outside the city. Unfortunately the gains from this move are now being undermined by seasonal dry spells and increasing borehole usage, a result of the failure by City Council to provide municipal water.
Groundwater expert Richard Owen has been closely monitoring the city’s water levels (particularly the eastern region of Mandara) for several years. Unfortunately for Harare residents, Owen’s findings definitively show decreasing groundwater levels. On 1 September 2013, Owen recorded cumulative rainfall of 300 mm and groundwater levels of 20.5 mbgl (metres below ground level). “In October 2014, groundwater was at its lowest at 22 mbgl and nearby boreholes ran dry. At that time, some bulk water suppliers were pumping out about 250,000 litres six days a week. They were stopped by ZINWA and there was a good recovery in the 2014–2015 rainy season. But this gain retreated in the 2015–2016 rainy season,” he said.
Owen explained that groundwater levels had been severely depleted over the years owing to continuous borehole pumping and a series of droughts. “The best management options are to conserve groundwater and avoid wasting a drop. People should demand water delivery be restored by council and when that happens the boreholes must be rested as much as possible,” he advised.
A member of staff – identified only as Winnet – at an unnamed borehole drilling company confirms that groundwater levels are dropping because of borehole density and reduced recharge. She says that where before they used to drill and find water at 15 or 20 mbgl, it is now common that they need to drill to 60 mbgl or deeper to find water.
In addition, Harare water is not only supplying Harare residents. According to a recent study by a group of experts at the University of Zimbabwe, Bulk Water Suppliers in the City of Harare – An Endogenous Form of Privatisation of Urban Domestic Water Services in Zimbabwe?, the city’s water supply also provides water to the neighbouring towns of Chitungwiza, Norton, Ruwa and Epworth. There simply is not enough water to supply Harare and outside the city as well.
Ever since acute water shortages in the city started around 2001, City Council has been trying to contain the situation by implementing water demand management. But the gap between demand – estimated at 1,400 mega litres per day – and supply has continued to rise causing an increase in water cut-offs in parts of the city from 24 hours in 2005 to over 72 hours in 2014. The city has a pumping capacity of 450 mega litres per day which can only satisfy 40% of the city’s population of over two million people.
ZINWA Corporate Communications Manager Marjorie Munyonga confirms Owen’s findings. “There is widespread abstraction of groundwater in Harare. This naturally results in the lowering of groundwater levels. In general, groundwater levels in Harare are going down owing to over- abstraction, and reduced rainfall.” Munyonga further explained that hydro-geological good practice requires that monitoring boreholes be drilled in strategic locations to be used to measure groundwater levels from time to time. But this is not the case in Harare owing to a lack of resources.
Borehole users and water suppliers are required to register with ZINWA and water abstraction from boreholes must be regulated. Analysts have praised new regulations and a revamped Water Act introduced in 2001, which recognized the hydrological cycle and the need for management of water use in all its forms as sound principle.