HARARE: Perennial water cuts in Zimbabwe's urban areas have forced many people in the country's towns and cities to resort to using underground water as taps continue to run dry.
Delivery of water to households and industry is the responsibility of district councils. However, the councils are cash-strapped and almost bankrupt.
Urban councils are failing to fulfil their mandate of servicing the areas under their jurisdiction. Mountains of garbage lie uncollected in Chitungwiza and the nation's capital, Harare.
The Chitungwiza Town Council, for example, is facing a labour dispute for failing to pay its workers, including top officials, in the engineering department since July 2012.
There is now an upsurge in the number of people digging wells to exploit underground water on their properties without council approval. A Chitungwiza resident, Simba Chinyani, who has modified his well to prevent contamination by raw sewage discharged by burst sewer pipes, says the council and the Zimbabwe Water Authority (ZINWA) can no longer be trusted to deliver.
"Last year I received a huge water bill from ZINWA and they threatened to cut off my supply. I did not have the $1,500 which was due, so I thought it was wise to dig a well with the little cash I had in case they cut me off," he said.
He added that before his father died about 15 years ago, he had shown him some technology which he used to protect and pump water from wells. "Sewage pipes always burst and raw sewage flows close to my well whilst the rains move all the garbage near the well," Chinyani continued. "So I decided to try my father's technology to protect my family. It works wonderfully.
"It is so safe that even a young child in Grade One can operate it with ease. Unlike the other traditional wells where you operate it whilst bending your back and lifting the bucket of water, you operate this one whilst standing as the water fills in the collection bucket."
He added that the city council has approached him about replicating the idea to other households. The majority of wells that have been dug in Chitungwiza are shallow, and although they are protected, they are not completely safe from contamination.
Chinyani recommends that people always use water treatment tablets before using the water for drinking and cooking. Authorities in Chitungwiza are very much aware of the situation. Town engineer Tinofa said he is also aware of the mushrooming of wells and his department is carrying out a study of the situation.
"Yes, we are aware of these people digging wells all over Chitungwiza, we are and are carrying out a study which will guide us on the way forward," said Tinofa.
Although resorting to groundwater is the immediate option in a water crisis, there are several challenges to be overcome when exploiting this resource. The first one is health. There is an imminent threat of a cholera and typhoid outbreak if authorities do not intervene to test the water from the wells.
Secondly, there needs to be established a proper monitoring mechanism for exploitation of groundwater by councils to stop people from using it as an infinite resource. There is also an inadequate human resource capacity and skills at all levels of groundwater use in Zimbabwe.
Lastly, there are no skilled personnel in local authorities to manage groundwater vulnerability to climate change.The water crisis in Zimbabwe has been going on for several years now. Things started going bad in 2007 when the country experienced a severe cholera outbreak that killed many people across the country.
Authorities are always quick to blame Western-imposed economic sanctions, the bursting aged water pipes and shortage of funds to procure chemicals for water treatment included.
But most of the blame lies squarely with President Robert Mugabe's government. The opposition told the whole world that "the ZANU-PF regime" was failing to provide its own people with clean water.
However, on looking closely into the water issue in Zimbabwe, the inclusive government saw most urban councils coming under the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) T party of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai in 2009.
The Minister of Urban Councils and Rural Development is Dr Ignatius Chombo, a ZANU-PF MP. For the past four years, relations between the minister and urban councils have been strained, as evidenced by numerous accusations of corruption and suspension of urban councillors from office by the minister. It seems it is now time for ZANU-PF to point a finger at the MDC for failing to provide clean water to its cities and towns. Meanwhile, Bulawayo is experiencing its worst water crisis in the history of the city. The Mayor Thaba Moyo and the Minister of Water Resources and Development Dr Samuel Sipepa are engaged in a row over the control of the city's largest aquifer whilst residents face a four-day weekly "water shedding" schedule. (SPA)