The huge rainfall that pounded Zimbabwe over January brought mixed blessings for Harare. On the surface, the torrents of water destroyed property and infrastructure. But underneath the chaos lies the promise of a more bearable dry season as water supplies, including dams and boreholes have been well replenished. First, the good news.
State of our dams and boreholes
Most dams feeding Harare are now full to capacity. In an email from the Zimbabwe National Water Authority to Harare News on 31 January, dams that are now 100% full or more in the country include Chivero, Harava, Pollards, Mazvikadei, Bhiri-Manyame, Nyambuya, Upper Insiza, Mundi-Mataga, Bangala and Woodlands.
The Zambezi River Authority which manages Kariba Dam — a key source of hydroelectric power for the nation, told Harare News that the dam is currently at 21% against levels of 12% this time last year, but would continue to rise as water feeds in from the vast catchment area. Peak inflows usually occur in May.
Boreholes in Harare are being well replenished too. Mandara-based hydrologist, Richard Owen, has been tracking the relationship between rainfall and groundwater levels in Harare since October 2010. “There are many factors influencing how rainfall affects groundwater recharge, it’s not a simple correlation. We must take into account rainfall frequency, intensity, preceding soil moisture conditions and aquifer storage capacity. The last heavy storm at my place overtopped the rain gauge so was more than 110mm, which lead to a rise in the water table of 1.96m. The water level on my borehole is now 15.72 metres below ground level (mbgl) — the highest since I started monitoring.”
Owen believes that Harare’s boreholes have been well-replenished, but still urges cautious use of the water since future rainy seasons are unpredictable and it remains a finite resource.
Vision 2025 washed away
For Harare City Council, the seemingly endless deluge has exacerbated the growing service delivery crisis as key infrastructure including sewers, roads and storm drains were strained past breaking point. Sewer overflow contaminated sources of drinking water, and the Typhoid outbreak that gripped parts of the city in December continued. Council’s health department responded with a ban on vending in the CBD. Images of mountains of fruit and vegetables in the back of garbage compactors caused a stir on social media and even prompted legal action from a vendors’ body. Members of the public focussed blame on council’s waste management department for the filthy state of affairs all over town and into the suburbs.
The number of Typhoid cases is hard to know for sure since diagnosis requires a costly lab culture that can take up to two weeks. However, reports from the Ministry of Health in early January indicated that suspected infections had run past 2,200 cases, a figure that continued to rise through January. While Typhoid was mostly limited to high-density areas, especially Mbare, the rain damage to Harare’s already battered road network was visible everywhere. So badly wrecked are our roads that Minister of Local Government, Saviour Kasukuwere, was prompted to declare it a ‘state of disaster’ in an announcement which he also used to take a swipe at long-time adversary, the MDC-T led council.
“We have not had sufficient funding in the City of Harare to look after the road infrastructure. We actually have a state of disaster. We have to mobilise as much resources as possible and I am happy the Minister of Transport has come to give us that support…The city of Harare cannot cope. Clearly what you can see is that they have failed on their own to look after the situation,” said Kasukuwere to The Herald recently.
Acting Town Clerk Josephine Ncube, also suggested that City of Harare might start rolling out concrete roads, with the badly damaged Arcturus road being the first to get the treatment. Concrete is a very good road surface and is readily available from local suppliers, the only downside being that it is labour intensive and takes much longer than tar to set for use.
The state of the roads prompted Member of Parliament for Harare West, Jesse Majome to attempt to spark parliamentary debate about whether revenue collection for vehicle licensing and road maintenance should be removed from ZINARA and handed to City of Harare. Her attempt to have the motion heard failed however.
Writing to her Facebook followers, Majome said; “On Wednesday 25 January, Parliament of stalled my motion in the National Assembly, to devolve road maintenance revenue collection and restore vehicle licence fees collection from ZINARA to Harare City Council and other local authorities . . . the Speaker withdrew the motion because he said hadn’t seen it. I have since made alterations to the motion and will present it this week. I’m suspicious that my motion has been deliberately delayed. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that On Tuesday 24 Jan Gvt declared roads a national disaster.”
It is encouraging that the state of the roads has taken main stage in government deliberations, and whether or not government concedes revenue collection from the well-banked Zinara to our impoverished city council, residents must expect, and demand meaningful short and long term action.
Suburban bliss dissolved
While there were reports of houses, especially those built on wetland areas being flooded throughout the rainy season, the big story of January’s rains was the massive storm that rocked Borrowdale and other nearby suburbs on the night of January 26. One reader reported getting 150mm of rain in an hour. Residents of Borrowdale Brooke, Glen Lorne and other areas woke up to scenes of carnage including collapsed walls, uprooted trees, and washed away bridges and roads. One resident of Carrick Estate allegedly found his car after an extensive search badly battered and sitting in the cleft of a tree.
The big storm came soon after the Greystone Park dam wall broke, which has left the once scenic community park in disarray. Ballantyne Park, which has enjoyed an inspiring revival as a park and community hub is facing the same fate. As waters have risen, the dam wall is showing its age. On 30 January the mayor, Councillor for the area Rusty Markham attended the scene with engineers in tow. It was decided to drain water from the dam to keep pressure off until the next dry spell when repairs can be made.
“Providing we don’t have any flash floods, we should manage to keep the dam intact,” said Markham to Harare News.
In their email to Harare News ZINWA outlined how it is the responsibility of private dam owners to ensure the safety of their dams.
“Over the past days, there have been incidents of small dams being washed away or breaching. These small dams are largely private dams on people’s properties or communal dams which are not under the purview of ZINWA.
Owners of such dams have an obligation under the Water Act to take all the necessary precautions to ensure the safety of their dams and the surrounding places.
In most incidents of dam failures, such as the Borrowdale Dams case in Harare, these legal requirements have not been adhered to while preliminary enquiries with other relevant institutions have pointed out that the dams were not even registered. ZINWA there appeals to owners of these small dams to comply with the law.
Failure to comply with these requirements constitutes a criminal offence and offenders are liable to a fine or imprisonment of up to six months or both such imprisonment and a fine.”
With at least two months of rain left, Harare residents are already longing for a dry spell.
“That’s enough now,” said a resident of Highlands. “It’s been nice to have so much water, but it all came too fast and hard, and we need time to fix everything that’s broken and for our crops to grow.”