17 January 2013

Zimbabwe: Water Crisis Blamed On Shortage of Chemicals

Photo: Capital FM
Taps remain dry in Harare.

AN acute shortage of water treatment chemicals, burst water pipes and recurrent power shortages have been blamed for water shortages across Harare. Harare Water director Engineer Christopher Zvobgo confirmed the problems yesterday, but said "adequate measures have been put in place" to allow the city to return to its "normal water supply".

At its maximum, the city produces 620 megalitres but has been producing around 400 million litres of which 60 percent is lost through leaks.

To compound the problem, close to 70 000 households that are not on the council database are illegally connected to the water system.

"Our stocks of aluminum sulphate were low so we reduced water production to stretch the number of days we could have water," he said.

The action has, however, severely affected residents who have had to scrounge for water.

Residents of high-density suburbs were relying on boreholes, some of which have been condemned because they are contaminated with faecal matter.

The city has not alerted the residents of its problems and residents continue to wonder why they do not have running water.

He said Zimphos, which supplies aluminum sulphate, is supposed to deliver five 30-tonne trucks of the chemical daily but failed to do so for an undisclosed number of days.

Zimphos alerted the council about the breakdown of its plant.

The city uses US$3 million to procure water treatment chemicals each month.

Highdon Investments chairman Mr MacDonald Chapfika said the city was snubbing suppliers with proven capacity to deliver effectively.

"During our time as suppliers we never allowed the situation to deteriorate to such levels. We always had plan B in place," he said.

He said he has secured dealerships from a number of leading South African manufacturers who are willing to set up production factories in Harare.

"Very soon we will be producing the chemicals locally. But the city should look at people who are willing to give them chemicals on credit so that residents are not put at risk," he said.

City spokesman Mr Leslie Gwindi said the chemical problems with Zimphos had forced the city to look at alternative suppliers.

"We are actively looking at sourcing from outside the country. Zimphos is bedevilled with production issues of aluminum sulphate.

"They are failing to meet our requirements," he said.

Zimphos chief executive Mr Misheck Kachere declined to comment.

"I wouldn't want to comment on that as I am out of the country at the moment.

"It would be inappropriate for me to comment without getting the context of what has been said by the city council as there are a lot of factors involved in the supply of the chemical. I will be in office on Friday and will issue a statement after I am apprised of the situation," he said.

The city, with two million residents, has 192 000 households connected to the water system.

Recent assumptions are that Harare is producing enough water but is losing up to 60 percent of it through leaks and thefts.

eThekwini Municipality (Durban) officials who visited the capital recently said they wanted to assist the city with technical skills.

Harare needs skills to tackle issues of burst pipes, creating a customer database, customer care and effective revenue collection.

Only 60 percent of water sales revenue is collected every year.

Last year, the water department collected US$65 million.

eThekwini customer services manager Mr Teddy Gounden said his municipality wanted to assist Harare in tariff formulation, establishment of a stand-alone water utility and water conservation.

Mr Gounden said they would also assist Harare to reduce levels of non-revenue water, installation of the GIS and telemetry systems.

Council intends to fit pressure-reducing valves along its water network to conserve the resource.

The reduction of pressure would entail that all high-rise buildings have booster pumps to feed to higher levels.

Areas like Mbare hostels where taps are vandalised on a daily basis would also be fitted with the pressure-reducing valves while individual water meters would be fitted in the Avenues area.

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