A GROUP of boys aged between eight and 10 kick and knock around a paper ball up and down a street in Harare's Sunningdale 11, suburb. The ball lands into a storm water drain and it takes one of
the little boys about three minutes to locate it as it has disappeared in layers of refuse that include plastics, paper, plastic bottles and kaylite among others.
As they kick the ball and race up and down to and from their makeshift goal posts, large raindrops spatter the sun-baked ground forcing them to abandon their match before the referee Tonde blows the ballpoint cap he uses as a whistle to signal "fulltime".
The children, who seem to have forgotten about the fate of their game sing the popular mvura naya naya, tidye mupunga (rain fall so that we can eat rice) as they run home.
In a few minutes more rains fall, "sweeping" the streets of the dust and dirt, a sigh of relief for many.
But while the kids celebrate the coming of the rains, they bring some sort of fear to their parents who keep their fingers and toes crossed.
Their drainage system is clogged and they are afraid that the water may end up flooding their homes as it has done in previous years.
"We have had to adapt to this since we started staying here. Our house is down street and all the water that comes from the upper ground ends up here.
"Four houses on our street are affected by this problem and our property is always drenched in water whenever it rains," said house owner Mr Wilson Matida.
He added that long grass has also grown in the drain which is supposed to service their street. No concrete slabs were put in the drain when it was dug and Mr Matida believes the City of Harare has forgotten about them.
Mr Matida and his neighbours' situation is just a drop in the ocean. Most Harare's storm, drains are choked and have simply stopped draining.
From the Central Business District to residential areas, water seems not to have anywhere to go.
Many residents have raised questions on what would be the lasting solution to this problem. Does Harare have enough storm drains and are the existing ones all in good working condition.
Town Planner Mr Percy Toriro says the number of drains in a city or suburb is not standard, but is determined by the volumes of water discharged, terrain, and such technical consideration.
"These are normally determined at the design stage of a settlement. The critical issue becomes the routine maintenance of these drains so that they continue to serve their function of facilitating the drainage of an area."For example, an area such as Mbare is considered to have sufficient drains since some years ago the drains were performing their functions well.
"If the infrastructure status has not changed, and the rainfall patterns are still similar to the time the drains were designed, then they remain adequate," he said.
According to Mr Toriro, what has changed is that some of the drains have been clogged with soil, refuse, rubble, and many other materials rendering them ineffective. "When it rains or when there is a sewer or water burst pipe, people will notice the water or effluent not moving but flooding an area," he pointed out.He revealed that the major challenge with drainage systems in urban areas is planning and maintaining a maintenance regime that is responsive to the seasons. "Ideally drains should be maintained every year just before the rainy season. After a full rain season, many drains will be full of soil as well as other materials. The key is a responsive system that has a monitoring mechanism and is proactive rather than reactive," he said. Key factors contributing to the blockage of drains are both natural and man-made, according to Mr Toriro.
"When it rains, soils are moved and deposited in all water channels. These cause drainage blockages. But human factors are also at play; in the city centre, vendors sometimes hide their wares in municipal drains, people also deposit waste in drains. These accumulate and ultimately block the underground drains. When it rains the water discharge channels cannot function as such leading to flooding on the streets," he said.He added that solutions lie in public awareness and a functional regulatory and enforcement system.
"As the rain season approaches, it is also the season of plenty -- there will be green maize, mazhanje, mangoes, and many other fruits. There is need for a public awareness blitz that informs the public to take measures to properly discharge of waste.
"Because not all people are reasonable, there is need for regulations that must punish offenders appropriately. Companies must compliment authorities by installing additional bins and assisting with awareness raising," he said.
Mr Toriro also said companies should also be responsible for their own types of special waste such as recalling used batteries that would not only clog the drains, but be hazardous as well.
"Separation of waste into their different categories must be encouraged. Not only does that reduce the volume of waste thrown away, it can be a livelihood activity for some people. With separation, people begin to see the value of plastic, bottles, or paper hence reducing its impact on the drains.
"For an agriculture-based economy such as ours, all organic and biodegradable material must be composted and used as manure to fertilise crops.
"Not only will this keep our drains free, it will save us money for the poisonous chemical fertilisers and make our environment sustainable," he added.
Mr Toriro said keeping the drains clear helps avoid localised flooding in the city.
Achieving that is a multi-stakeholder duty primarily on the local authority, but complimented by the residents and the private companies, he pointed out.
Harare Residents Trust Communications officer Mr Charles Mazorodze said since independence the Harare City council has not improved the number of storm drains within the city of Harare.
"There has been rapid increase in the population growth with an improvement or the upgrading of the existing infrastructure. The city of Harare failed to strategically plan in terms of matching the increase in the population growth. "Right now Harare City houses about 3 million inhabitants but there is no significant improvement in the infrastructure and storm drainage over the last 30 years," he pointed out.
He said while the maintenance procedure of the Harare City Council is that the storm drains should be cleared periodically at least once in two months, the situation on the ground says otherwise.
"In addition the maintenance procedure should be done in line with refuse collection. The maintenance procedure is being hindered by the huge amounts of the refuse that have accumulated in the storm drains and this has become the challenge of the Harare City Council who have initially failed to collect refuse and the residents end up dumping it in storm drains," he said.
He added that the failure by the Harare City Council to consistently collect refuse from the residents' households in most residential suburbs has resulted in the accumulation of debris in the storm drains.
"Residents of Harare are constantly paying for refuse collection which the city fathers seldom provide and this resulted in the storm drain system being periodically clogged with the refuse.
"In addition failure by the local authority to undertake routine maintenance of the drainage system has caused the total collapse of the storm drain system within the greater Harare. In times of the floods the residents are subjected to overflowing storm drains which at times causes flooding within the households," he said.
Mr Mazorodze said there is need for a widespread mindset shift on the part of the public to look for other alternative ways of waste disposal rather than throwing litter in storm drains.
"This is so because clogging the storm drain will result in a direct negative impact which accrues to the residents and it's a challenge. Residents can resort to the digging of compost within their households but at times this is a challenge as some of the residents do have limited space in their areas and the council should ensure that it collects the refuse from the residents," he pointed out.
This, he said, would go a long way in ensuring that the storm drains remains clean and continually maintained.
In addition, Mr Mazorodze suggested, the private companies should enter into private -- public partnerships with Harare City in order to improve the manner in which the services are provided to the residents.
He pointed out that refuse sorting is one of the best alternatives to address the storm drain clogging challenge that the residents are facing. This, he said, would result in classifying of the refuse and adaptation of various measures of water management such as land filling, composts and other managed dump sites.
"For this to happen there is need for capacity building of the residents to be done in order to classify and subsequently manage the waste disposal within their various communities. Community driven initiatives are an ideal option because the residents would have a sense of ownership of the development programs and would behave responsibly on the disposal of their waste within the communities," he added.
He said the core of the problem is the failure by Harare City Council to prioritise service delivery issues, which are being sacrificed and the resources being channelled towards the hefty salaries of top management.
"Right now most residential suburbs particularly the high-density suburbs such as Highfield, Budiriro, Mabvuku and Glen Norah refuse collection has not been done for over three months in some areas yet the city fathers continue to bill the residents for services which they do not provide. "Residents are left with no option except to throw litter around including the storm drains.
The Harare City Council should employ adequate and practical mechanisms to address the challenges which the residents are facing. In addition there should be regular and routine storm drain maintenance to ensure that the problems of storm drain overflowing will not be experienced.
"The HRT calls upon city fathers to be more sincere when it comes to the welfare of the Harare Citizenry, one life so far in Budiriro has been lost as a result of overflowing of the storm drains and it's very sad that Harare City Council has let the residents down in as far as the delivery of public services is concerned," he said.