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Zimbabwe’s economic mismanagement leaves Harare with no water supplies - Study

Publishing Date : 07 February, 2020


Only half of the 4.5 million people living in Zimbabwe’s capital city, Harare and its four satellite towns of Chitungwiza, Ruwa, Norton and Epworth, currently have access to clean water from the municipal water supply, a recent study shows.

Harare City Council officials have announced the council can only guarantee potable water to residents on one day per week. The city says it requires about 1,200 million litres of water per day, but the authorities can only guarantee about 450 million litres per day.

As a result, the residents with no access to municipal water supplies have to rely on water merchants, wells, streams or bores for supplies. However, a study carried out by the Global Food and Water Crises Research Programme and released last Wednesday blamed the persistent water cuts on mismanagement of the economy by the Zimbabwe government.

“While the Zimbabwean Government blames power cuts and drought for Harare’s water shortage, it is more likely that years of economic mismanagement and neglected water infrastructure are the real causes,” Mervyn Piesse, research manager Global Food and Water Crises Research Programme at Future Directions International said.


Companies and residents across Zimbabwe are experiencing daily lasting over 15 hours. He said Harare water supplies were drawn from four dams: Harava, Seke, Chivero and Manyame. However, Harava and Seke dams are completely dry, forcing the city council to decommission the Prince Edward water treatment plant, which treats water from those dams. The remaining dams are both more than three-quarters full and the Morton Jaffray water treatment plant treats the water sourced from them.

However, according to Piesse, water from the Chivero and Manyame dams is heavily polluted and the Morton Jaffray treatment plant spends P30 million each month on the chemicals used to clean it. The plant was designed to provide 416 million litres of water per day and, even if it was operating at full capacity, it is incapable of meeting the city’s requirements.

“Food insecurity is also a major cause for concern across Zimbabwe. Successive economic crises have been the main causes of that insecurity and it is likely that the prolonged mismanagement of the economy is also the main cause of Harare’s water crisis.

“The municipal water system was built several decades ago and was designed for a population of 350,000. Parts of the system have not been upgraded in more than 60 years and the last major upgrade occurred in 1994. A City of Harare study, conducted two years after that upgrade, found that more than 30 percent of the water that flowed through the system was lost to leaks. As the frequency of maintenance work has decreased in the intervening years, it is likely that even more is lost now,” he said.

To address the water supply problems in Harare, government signed a P14. 4 billion contract for a loan from the China Export-Import (Exim) Bank in 2011. But only half of the money available under the loan facility has been accessed and it has gone towards the rehabilitation of the Morton Jaffray water treatment plant, which was using original equipment from 60 years ago.

Harare mayor, Herbert Gomba, blamed the lack of water supplies in Harare on the non-payment of residential and commercial water bills by the residents and this prevented his administration from effectively delivering water.

“Even with the loan from Exim Bank, the existing water infrastructure would only be able to provide 770 million litres per day, leaving a shortfall of 430 million litres. The city requires three new dams, to add about 840 million litres of water,” said Gomba.However, without additional water treatment plants and supply infrastructure, it is unlikely that those dams would relieve the city’s water stress.

Without a significant injection of capital into a public works programme to address the shortcomings, it is likely that the water supply situation in Harare and other cities and towns will become increasingly dire. It is difficult to say where that capital will come from, so it is likely that the situation will continue to deteriorate.