Harare has been facing water problems and the city recently introduced water rationing and a timetable to go with it. Residents have also been complaining that the city has not been following its own water rationing schedule.
Our senior Reporter Innocent Ruwende (IR) caught up with Harare Town Clerk Engineer Hosiah Chisango (HC) to discuss these and other issues.
IR: Engineer, the city recently introduced water rationing, but we are just coming from a rainy season, what is the problem?
HC: Harare has in the last couple of years faced water supply problems due to growing population, deteriorating water infrastructure and the worsening raw water quality due to pollution. This has now been exacerbated by the current drought.
During normal rainy seasons, our dams would be spilling or near 100 percent full during this time. This year, Seke and Harava dams are at 6,3 percent and seven percent respectively. We, therefore, are forced to stop water production from Prince Edward Waterworks. We have, therefore, lost 70 megalitres of production capacity.
The 70 mega litres was supplying Chitungwiza, Hatfield, Waterfalls, Sunningdale and parts of Mbare. It means then that the water we get from Morton Jaffray now has to supply the whole Harare Metropolitan Province and Norton. Water rationing is a programme initiated to manage water demand and ensure equitable water distribution to all consumers. The current water rationing programme has been necessitated by the poor rainy season.
Water demand in Harare is higher than our capacity to supply, but this time around the situation has been exacerbated by the drought. We can no longer abstract water from the other two dams (Seke and Harava). For us to ensure that people get this essential commodity, we have to give people water on different days so that people get some water at least twice a week.
IR: What has been the impact of the drought on your water sources?
HC: Normally at this time of the year, all our dams should be 100 percent full or spilling, but at the moment Harava Dam is at seven percent and Seke Dam 6,3, while Lake Chivero is at around 60 percent full.
Virtually there is no water in these dams, which shows that we are in a drought situation which we have to manage in terms of water supply for the city.
We have also been forced to decommission Prince Edward Waterworks because we can longer draw water from Seke and Harava Dams. Everyone in the province will have to rely on Morton Jaffray.
IR: What is then the permanent solution to the perennial water woes faced by the capital?
HC: The permanent solution lies in the construction of additional water sources. Three sites have been identified and these are Mazowe, Kunzvi and Musami.
These are Government projects and we are anticipating the speedy construction of the dams. Morton Jaffray at full capacity and 100 percent efficiency would produce 614 mega litres per day. This would satisfy about 50 percent of the peak demand.
The production capacity of 614 mega litres cannot be attained because of the state of parts of the infrastructure as well as the quality of the raw water. The current water supply infrastructure has been outstripped by the demand and the solution is to bring in new sources of water.
To reduce the impact of the drought and other factors causing water shortages, we will work on improving the transmission and distribution efficiencies by managing the systems pressure and reducing losses. I encourage residents to improve water use efficiency by recycling and reusing water as well as avoiding any wasteful use of water.
IR: What is the city doing to ensure that residents get at least some water during these difficult times?
HC: The city had begun to implement stricter water rationing and restrictions to ensure some equity in access to water. The western suburbs, most of which were enjoying uninterrupted supplies will be experiencing water supply cuts of between 48 and 72 hours every week. This is meant to ensure that all corners of the supply area access the water services.
Water rationing will also see us stretch the raw water in the dams to the next rainy season. During such emergencies, the city bans the use of hosepipes and filling of swimming pools as these contribute to water wastage.
The city will on its part improve responsiveness to pipe bursts and leakages. Let me also urge the residents of Harare to always report any pipe bursts so that they are timely responded to. Let us all make each drop count.
IR: And the talk of mobile treatment plants?
HC: We are working flat out to ensure the mobile treatment plants come on board. We want to satisfy the water demand backlog.
IR: Is water rationing going to be a permanent feature or it is only temporary while council makes other plans to augment existing supplies?
HC: Drought is a natural phenomenon. God was not smiling on us this year and we do not know when he will smile on us. We are praying that this coming season we have more rains which will make us revert to our normal water supply situation. If we have another drought this year, we will actually put more stringent measures on our water rationing system.
At the moment we are going into a dryer season. So far we have banned the use of hosepipes and we will reduce the number of days that some of those areas access water. We will be earmarking more acutely on our key institutions like hospitals because as water rationing comes in, we will expect some diseases to crop up. So we will be focusing more on strategic areas and reduce the number of days people will be getting water.
If the status of our raw water sources improves, the rationing will be relaxed.
IR: We understand the city intends to declare the current situation a state of emergency, how does that work?
HC: When we get to a situation like where we are now, our dams are drying up. We are getting into a state of emergency, so we have to be prepared as a city and as a nation to survive in that mode.
We will be going through council so that we get the necessary resolutions for implementation as well as from Government to make sure the situation is declared as a national emergency so that we are also able to mobilise resources to deal with the current situation. We need water bowsers for emergency. We also need to sink deeper boreholes in this situation and it also brings to the fore the issue of additional water sources. The water we have is not going to take us as a city another three years.
IR: What does this mean to the water consumer?
HC: Water rationing will go further. We are also expecting people to be conserving water. What water do we use for flashing our toilets?
For example, can we not use the water we used for cleaning plates or bathing to flush our toilets rather than using fresh water?
How much water do you need to take a bath? Do you need a full tub or just 10 litres? Those are issues the residents can question themselves. How many times do you want to wash your car or do you need to wash it at all with running water?
We have banned the use of hosepipes and we will also be regulating the amount that people are supposed to use. If they exceed a certain amount, we will add another charge if we go by the law of water rationing. Those with boreholes are also included in the ban because that water table is what affects the resource at the end of the day.
Even if you have a borehole, we advise residents to be conservative in terms of water usage because we are in a crisis.
IR: You have not been sticking to the timetable you released and some other areas are omitted, can you explain why?
HC: Admittedly, the water rationing timetable we published has not been fully followed due to some technical challenges we have faced in water treatment and distribution.
The timetable will continue to be refined to include all areas and to prioritise critical institutions.
This level of water rationing will not be a permanent feature. The way it was prepared was based on our water supply zones. So if people were getting water supply from a certain inlet or a certain reservoir, we then lump that area together to say this is called Highlands and we will include other smaller suburbs within Highlands.
We are still polishing that because we have been having some technical problems going on over the week. We advertised the schedule and we are taking in what the customers are saying. We will then go further and sharpen it to a suburb particularly.
We will be posting it to our customers almost on a weekly basis and or whenever there are changes so that people really know when they are supposed to get water.
IR: And are your water chemicals enough?
HC: We have been having challenges with the two major suppliers of aluminium sulphate. As we were getting into last weekend, there was a delay of delivery of that chemical. We rely mostly on our local producers who seem to have some challenges.
Instead of the four or five loads we expect a day, we were getting two or three. There is a shortage, but the other supplier has chipped in to close the gap, but we still have those challenges. We are working together with our suppliers to ensure that we have adequate stocks.