The Herald (Harare)

Zimbabwe: Women Reduced to 'Water Scavengers'

Water is a basic human right. Water gives life that it is not life itself. Local authorities throughout the world are mandated with water provision. Ruwa Local Board chairman Clr Phineas Mushayavanhu and his eight councillors must be ruing the day they were elected into office. Daily fights and counter corruption charges against each other have decorated their 55 months in

office. As if to ice the cake -- the council has failed to provide water to its 120 000 residents.

The precarious water situation in Ruwa calls for much more from the elected council and the management led by Ms Juliet Makombe.

A visit to the Ruwa Local Board offices does not show urgency on the part of management to resolve the water crisis.

It is business as usual.

But a few metres outside the office block winding queues of women with children strapped on their backs and pushing wheelbarrows full of water containers has become a common feature.

Despite the failure to bring water to the residents council Clr Mushayavanhu declares that the town does not need water from Harare anymore.

"We do not need Harare water any more," he says.

The residents now live in fear of disease while women complain they fear being raped and sexually abused when they travel in the dark to fetch water late in the evening or early in the morning.

While there have not been any reported cases -- fear on its own is affecting the social wellbeing of the women and girl child.

Sights of women pushing wheelbarrows full of water containers and shoving at each other at the limited communal water points in Ruwa are a daily spectacle.

Fights over water and turns to fetch the precious liquid have also become synonymous with daily life in the town east of Harare.

A few men and boys are also visible at the water points arguing amongst each other and often engaging in animated muscle games as they battle to get the water ahead of the rest.

The scarcity of water in the town has literally reduced some women and girls to "water scavengers" who stand at nothing to get every drop.

In separate interviews the residents expressed dismay with their local board accusing it of abusing funds meant for the water project.

Government through the public sector investment programme gave the board US$3,5 million for water augmentation project.

The funds were meant to reticulate water from the Norah Valley Dam in northeastern Ruwa to a holding dam enroute to the treatment plant.

That project has taken longer than projected to be completed.

Mr Fanuel Chirume of Zimre Park said his area last received council water last year.

"We get water from wells but because of the pressure some of the wells are drying up," he said.

Ms Linnet Makoni said the water problems presented enormous challenges for women and the girl child. She said as mothers -- women have to wake up early to queue for water while the girl child has to do the same.

"We are now exposed to diseases," she said.

Mr Bernard Madondo from Zimre Park said some children are forced to miss school while on water errands.

"The hygiene in the schools is heavily compromised when there is no water. Something should be done," he said.

He alleged that funds meant for Ruwa water were abused basing his argument on the fact that nothing tangible has happened to prove the funds were used wisely.

The situation was the same in another suburb Damofalls where the whole community in the newly built up area solely relies on dug out wells. Because of the density of the built up structures fears that sewage can find its way into the water sources is very high.

Mr Simbarashe Kativhu said residents had waited for council water in vain and decided to dig the wells.

Water merchants who sell 5 000 litres for US$60 have been blamed for sabotaging the few communal boreholes in the area.

Windsor Park and Chipukutu residents have similar cries.

In the high density suburb residents queue at Mavambo Shopping Centre where the borehole water had "trickles out at snail pace".

The residents have to wait for the water table to rise before they can have a turn to get water.

Sometimes residents queue for up to four hours before they can access the water.

Mrs Emelda Munyanyi says the biggest challenge was with home toilets and bathing.

"We can not use our flush toilets let alone bath. As a woman I feel my rights are being abused," she said.

At another water point -- Spar -- women and children disregard their age differences while they push and shove at each other to get into pole position.

Mrs Magocha said the council should decentralise the water points.

"We are tired of this life," she said.

The shortage of water means families can not grow vegetables on their yards to sustain families and can not take regular baths, do their laundry and can not use their ablution facilities sustainably.

Some councillors interviewed confirmed reports that funds for water had been abused.

"The company that was given the job has not completed work. It has taken too long," said one of the councillors.

But Clr Mushayavanhu defended his council. While admitting the whole town was dry -- he said water would soon be available.

"Waterflow the company contracted to do the pipes has finished laying the pipes. We are now waiting for Zesa to install a dedicated feeder line," he said.

Clr Mushayavanhu said the US$526 000 for the job was still with the Ministry of Finance.

"The Ministry is saying there are other commitments that need to be paid first. We urge Government to bear with us and pay that money quickly," he said.

Mr Mushayavanhu said the ministry had issued a certificate of payment that should act as guarantor of payment.

He said on his part he was convening meetings with residents to explain the water situation.

He denied reports that the council was billing residents for water not delivered.

"We are only billing them for fixed charges for water. We still need to maintain the infrastructure that we put in place," he said.

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