By Harry Davies and Pretty Chavango
The recent upgrades to Morton Jaffray water works will not result in a regular water supply to Harare. Residents have voiced anger at the false hope offered by the near-monthly City of Harare (CoH) notices that do not indicate the vast and complex problems behind the city’s dry taps.
In addition to the mammoth task of completing the Morton Jaffray project, now said to be 70% done, CoH must grapple with a disheartening list of critical problems including:
To make matters worse, Harare’s underground reserves, which have acted as a safety net for a majority of residents in the Northern suburbs, are dipping to dangerously low levels, a problem exacerbated by the el Niño-induced drought.
Harare obtains untreated water from four dams on the Manyame River: Harava and Seke dams which supply Prince Edward (Seke) Treatment Works; and Chivero and Manyame Dams which supply Morton Jaffray (Manyame) Treatment Works. Speaking to Harare News, Council Spokesperson Mike Chideme said, “Even if Morton Jaffray comes to its full capacity, it will not be enough for Harare. What we need are new water sources and we are actively engaging with government and investment partners to find a solution.”
However, new dams will take many years to fund and build. In the short term, CoH is under pressure to raise revenue to help fight other fires, including water leaks that lose upwards of 50% of Harare’s treated water, and a $3 million per month purification bill. CoH’s controversial prepaid water meter pilot scheme points the way towards efficient revenue collection, but rollout is also a costly and time-consuming exercise, that will not bring to book the huge number of rates defaulters with a reported $500 million outstanding.
In his 2016 State of the City address, Mayor Manyenyeni pointed to so called ‘untouchables’ – Harare residents and businesses with connections to the ruling Zanu PF party, who are allowed to live in the city without paying rates – part of the deep system of patronage that has enabled the ruling party to hold onto power. Many residents who are not untouchable have also been defaulting, with the expectation of a blanket debt cancellation ahead of the 2018 elections. After the pre-election 2013 cancellation robbed City of Harare of more than $400 million, there is no doubt that officials at Town House are under pressure to recoup as much as possible as quickly as possible – a battle made very difficult by a failed economy that has left most people unemployed and short of money.
A resident of Ward 8 visited Harare News with a copy of the Mayor’s speech in hand. He expressed his opinion that without public pressure early on, a second debt cancellation will happen, and put a nail in the coffin of Harare City Treasury. “I have been paying my rates for my property every month for 26 years, but I don’t have water, my road is potholed, and two out of four rubbish collections have been missed this month. City council needs to force the others to pay, even those who have connections in government. If the cancellation happens again, I will not be willing to pay any more after that,” he said.
Harare News spoke to a former senior engineer specialising in water who worked on Harare’s water system for ten years. He puts leakages at more than 50%, and estimates that only 40% of water bills are paid. “If we take the revenue received from water and convert it back into an equivalent volume of water, it comes to about 15% of what is being taken from the dams. If they were baking bread, it would be like baking 100 loaves a day, selling 15, and throwing the rest away.” He went on to emphasise that blame should not lie on City of Harare alone. “The only way this situation can be resolved is if there is political will, and the water department is allowed to do its job without interference.”
The everyday consequence of this complex web of issues is great hardship. There are health and social implications at play, and women bear the brunt of the shortages, often walking long distances in the depth of the night to queue for a bucketful of dirty water.
Virginia Bosha from Dzivarasekwa is one such woman. Speaking to Harare News, she bemoaned the shutdowns. “We are tired of hearing about continuous upgrades that seem to yield no results. Some of us wake up in the middle of the night to fetch water as that is the only time it is available. These shutdowns really make no difference,” said Bosha.
CoH publish many of their notices via their Facebook page. The latest Morton Jaffray shutdown notice dated 1 September and dubbed ‘the final shutdown’ received several negative comments. “Last u say? Lets hope so coz we r going without water for over 4days each week in strathaven”, wrote one resident. “No water in Rhodesville for over a month so we won’t notice. Neither will most of Ward 8 who haven’t had water for up to 12 years in some areas,” said another.
In the face of mounting problems and growing anger among residents, CoH needs to find solutions urgently. There are mega-projects such as Morton Jaffray and pipeline rehabilitation needed, but a holistic approach will include low cost measures such as the protection of the environment from which our water comes. Pollution in the dams needs to be addressed and the culprits in industry penalised. The preservation and creation of wetlands that filter water running into the dams will help reduce the purification bill and improve the rate at which underground reserves are replenished. Education campaigns in all parts of the city need to be conducted so that all residents take stock of every drop. A hosepipe ban needs to be enforced, and illegal water delivery companies shut down. Without drastic action, leafy Harare could easily become an urban desert where only the rich can afford to wash.