Harare residents resort to unsafe water sources as the cholera epidemic rages on

Kudakwashe Emma Zihonye

“It takes me an hour to go to the cemetery to get a bucket of water, and another hour to come back home just to get water, which is a basic necessity but is scarce here in Hopely,” explains Nora Mugomba, 36 (pictured), while sitting at her front door, dressing and cutting chicken pieces for resale.

Flies are all-over but she is not worried.

Nora is one of the many residents of Hopely, Zone 5, Harare, who have no access to running or borehole water to cater to their everyday needs.

Although Zimbabwe is currently facing a cholera crisis, Hopely residents are particularly vulnerable as they have no water for sanitation.

“We are drinking unsafe water from some pits at the Mbudzi cemetery since we have no other source of water. Some neighbors have wells, but most of them are dry, and those who have water make us pay ZWL1000 for one bucket, which we cannot afford. Even at the few boreholes located in other zones, which were donated, we are required to pay US$15 USD per month,” Nora said.

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Nora requires a significant amount of water to ensure good hygiene for her small business to run smoothly, as she sells chicken cuts that require a lot of water during the dressing process.

However the water crisis is not affecting only those in areas which have no access to City of Harare (CoH) services. All Harare suburbs are reeling from the shortage of water and poor refuse collection CoH which is putting them at risk from the cholera current outbreak in the country.

Cholera has been a recurring problem in Zimbabwe since the 1990s, causing significant loss of life. Budiriro, a high-density suburb in Harare, experienced one of the highest death rates in 2008, when the capital city was hit hard by a cholera outbreak, resulting in over 4,000 deaths. Approximately 100,000 people were affected.

Over the past month, there have been more than 5,000 possible cases and 100 deaths from cholera. To prevent further spread of the disease, the government has implemented restrictions such as limiting the number of attendees at funerals and halting certain social gatherings in affected areas. In response to the severity of the situation, a state of emergency has been declared.

Some Harare residents, through Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) lawyers Tinashe Chinopfukutwa and Kelvin Kabaya, recently threatened to sue the City of Harare demanding the restoration of water supplies to stop the spread of the disease.

In an interview with She Corresponds Africa Tinashe Chinopfukutwa said every citizen has a right to clean and safe water according to the Zimbabwean Constitution in section 77.

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“The Harare City Council must ensure that all citizens have access to clean and safe water by all means possible. Even the issue of taxes the HCC should make sure that everyone pays their taxes through strategies they must craft,” he said.

Cholera is a water-borne disease that spreads quickly in areas with inadequate sanitation. It is caused by consuming contaminated water or food. Zimbabwe faces challenges in accessing clean water, which contributes to the ongoing issue of cholera outbreaks.

Council not able to meet the city’s water demand

Morton Jaffray, the biggest water treatment plant in Harare, has been experiencing shutdowns due to operational issues and shortage of water treatment chemicals for many years. The plant, which has the maximum capacity of providing 750 megalitres of water per day, is currently only able to pump 350 to 380 megalitres a day. This falls far short of the required amount, which is over 1,200 megalitres per day.

Originally built in 1953, to support a population of 300,000, Harare now hosts around 4 million people during the day and approximately two million at night.

Harare Deputy Mayor Kudzai Kadzombe said Harare is incapacitated to provide the 1.2 million mega litres required to ensure that every house hold has running water. She said the only solution was having other sources of water such as Kunzvi Dam.

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“The Government of Zimbabwe is the one which is supposed to provide new sources of water such as Kunzvi Dam under the President’s office not through Harare City Council,” she said.

Besides not providing enough water in Harare, tests have indicated that the water supplied to people’s homes by the local authority does not meet the standards set by the World Health Organization (WHO). It has also been observed that the water appears greenish when it comes out of the tap.

Tests have revealed that borehole water in many neighborhoods, both low-density and high-density, is contaminated. Water from unprotected sources like shallow wells is also unsafe for consumption which is the cause of many recurring cholera cases.

Most people in Harare are relying on private boreholes and wells at home to ensure adequate sanitation.

The Prince Edward plant supplies 90 megalitres of water to areas such as Chitungwiza, Epworth, Ruwa, Hatfield, Sunningdale, Waterfalls, and some parts of Mbare. The areas often experience water cuts because the plant frequently breaks down.

A 2016 report published in Oxford Academic revealed that Lake Chivero, Harare’s biggest source of water right now, is among the world’s top 10 most polluted lakes. Much of the untreated sewage, industrial chemicals, and other waste from Harare, Chitungwiza, and Ruwa are discharged into river systems that flow into the lake. The study also found that both the fish and water in Lake Chivero are contaminated with E. coli and exceed international guidelines for bacterial and fungal loads in food safety which is endangering both people and wildlife.

City of Harare has acknowledged its inability and incapacitation to provide sufficient clean water and sanitation services. This is due to several factors, including unpaid taxes, deteriorating pipes, outdated equipment, and a shortage of refuse collection trucks.

The city currently has 12 trucks for refuse collection, while it requires at least 60.

In Harare, where cholera has become endemic, residents often go without clean drinking water for days, creating an environment conducive for the spread of the water-borne disease.

Construction of more water sources

To address the water shortage, the Kunzvi Dam project is underway and being constructed by a Chinese company, Sino-Hydro.

The dam will be located at the confluence of the Nora and Nyaguwe rivers in Goromonzi district. The estimated cost of building the dam is US$109 million. Construction began in 2021 and is already 33 percent complete, with a target completion date of 2026.

However, the Kunzvi Dam alone will not be sufficient to meet the water demand, as it will only provide 250 mega litres per day and increase the water supply to 950 megalitres per day.

“The construction of Kunzvi Dam began in 2021 through the Government of Zimbabwe which awarded a tender to a Chinese Company to do the construction. Harare City Council does not own any water source ,we are just users of that water,” Kadzombe said.

The Kunzvi Dam construction idea began as early as 1965 but the government has continuously postponed the construction citing shortage of funds.

Harare residents are living in constant fear because cholera is a deadly water-borne disease that thrives in unsanitary conditions. The lack of basic necessities like clean water and efficient refuse collection creates an environment where the disease can easily spread, leading to a sense of vulnerability and desperation among the people.

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