THE scarcity of clean, safe drinking water in Harare, and indeed, most parts of Zimbabwe is the new battleground for accelerated social distress and chaos. Enough cannot be said about its dangerous impacts on human health. Some 4 000 people died in the cholera outbreak of 2008/09 and more than 100 000 were affected.
The acute shortage of water, water pollution and reduced access to improved sanitation is a nightmare for those in public offices.
Already, it is a nightmare reaching boiling point for those households daily robbed of precious sleep to join long slow-moving queues early in the morning or late into the evening with buckets and plastic containers to fetch water at council offices, shallow wells or contaminated public boreholes.
With two-thirds of the world population expected to be without clean water for consumption by 2025, according to UN estimates, politicians and authorities responsible for the provision of water in Zimbabwe must deliver on their promises; they must fulfil their mandates for holding public office.
Water is viewed as a basic human right, paramount for socio-economic development and everybody wants it, clean.
However, worldwide, unsafe water is rather "popular" causing four billion cases of diarrhoea annually and killing 2,2 million people mostly children under five years, says the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Here, the battle for water has already begun. Increased water demand versus unmatching production levels, aided by the effects of climate change and global warming are a powerful destabilising factor in the socio-political arena.
The crisis is central in Harare and its satellite towns of Chitungwiza, Ruwa and Norton, where residents are stampeding for water among themselves, and regularly running battles with the city council.
Harare is producing only half of the required 1,2 million megalitres of water daily due to high treatment costs.
Rates and rent paying residents, even those in serious arrears, do not care. They want to see clean and safe drinking water running through their taps daily without disruption.
Desperation for residents
There are four children and five adults staying at the house next to my parents' in Dzivarasekwa in Harare.
They all live in a small two-bedroomed house with a single squatting toilet that also functions, as the bathroom.
Three of the kids are above four years of age but below eight. The other is at high school.
These children share a lot in common, but what stands prominent is the frequency (and love, and joy) with which they all visit the lavatory, for bath and other essential uses, often times, as a group.
The water problem in Dzivarasekwa over the past two months has changed the children's story in a lot of ways.
Group toilet visits have not completely stopped. They occur still, but perhaps infrequently and indiscriminately.
Toilet use for hard core purposes is now a luxury. But, of course, children being children, they don't know that.
They pay little attention to the absence of water as a critical resource and input for any toilet use, and when it has got them, it has got them.
Eventually, they are exposed to disease including cholera, typhoid and dysentery.
Mrs Tsitsi Chitsenga, a widow and head of the family next door, said the shortage of water was a major challenge.
She said the fight between people desiring to use the "waterless" lavatory and it being in an unusable state, was of little effect as children still use it in those unhygienic conditions.
Mrs Chitsenga was concerned about the reduced levels of hygiene and sanitation caused by the scarcity of water saying this was a perfect breeding ground for disease.
There is not sufficient clean water available for drinking and performing other critical household duties such as laundry.
Typically, this is the story for most households in Dzivaresekwa today, and other high-density areas who now go for up to 12 hours daily without water, and when available it is visibly dirty.
In some parts of the suburb, water supplies are continuously absent for an entire 24 hours.
Health officials at the Dzivarasekwa local clinic said there had been an upsurge in the number of people complaining of water-related illness, such as diarrhoea.
Dzivarasekwa has also been the epicentre of a typhoid outbreak reported in the city earlier in the year.
The situation is desperate for Dzivarasekwa residents, and despite assurances by the Harare City Council to connect the township directly to the main water reservoir to ease problems, that has not materialised.
It is an accident waiting to happen, whose impact will certainly boomerang to other troubled cities.
Harare's misplaced priorities
But, in a lot of areas, Harare City Council has failed, terribly. Raw sewage runs freely in most of the city's high-density areas.
We know of areas where this has been happening without correction for many years.
This is the sewage that eventually finds its way into Lake Chivero, Harare's main water source, and together with other industrial waste stand, as the main sources of pollution in the lake.
This is also why the city's water treatment costs are so high, failure to effectively control pollution of Lake Chivero, which could be said with a great degree of accuracy to be home-made through the council's own ineptitude.
The Harare City Council spent several millions of dollars building a mini-hotel for the mayor in Gunhill.
The so-called mayoral mansion consists of 15 bedrooms all en suite plus numerous other petty luxuries.
Apparently, the expensive mansion is now a white elephant. Harare Mayor Mr Muchadeyi Masunda refused to stay at the house for obvious reasons.
However, greater conflict is brewing if nothing concrete is put in place now to address the water situation.
Statistics from the Ministry of Water show that access to safe water and sanitation in Zimbabwe has declined over the past 10 years.
In the rural water supply and sanitation sector, levels of access have decreased from over 90 percent in 1999 to around 70 percent for safe water and 30 percent to 25 percent for sanitation in 2004.
These figures, however, do not reflect the high rate of breakdowns estimated at 65 percent in 2004 of rural water points.
There is talk of Kunzvi Dam in Goromonzi coming on board in three to four years time to augment Harare's erratic water supplies.
That plan has been around for so many years, and like Thomas, we will believe it when we see the project come alive.
So, strictly speaking, Harare is devoid of a functional plan to improve water supplies, reduce pollution at Lake Chivero except continuing with its health-threatening rationing of water.
We understand also that it is everyone's responsibility to use water wisely, preserve it and avoid pollution. Residents and other commercial consumers must also play their part.
Rainwater harvesting would be equally important. But the principal responsibility lies with the water authorities and central Government to avert future social unrest caused by the water crisis from becoming uncontrollable.
God is faithful.