HARARE – A health time bomb is on the horizon as Chitungwiza’s water woes have deepened with angry residents appealing to government and the recently sworn-in Phillip Mutoti-led council to prioritise pragmatic short and long-term solutions to avert a possible disaster.
About 20 km from Harare’s Munhumutapa Building, resource-rich Zimbabwe’s administrative hub, Chitungwiza’s women and children scouring for water day in, day out, from boreholes and other inhumane sources such as man-made or natural wells are now a common sight in the dormitory town.
Week-long investigations by the Daily News reveal that it might take a day in the queue for those patient and lucky enough to get the chance to draw potable water from one of the few donor-sunk boreholes in the area near Zengeza 2 Shopping Centre, weary residents interviewed by this paper say;
“I have no choice but to leave my husband sleeping at home to draw water from this borehole. What option is left for me as I need to wash my baby’s nappies everyday, never mind water needed for flushing toilets?” asked a dejected woman carrying a sixth-month old baby on her back.
Sitting on one of her empty 20-litre buckets the dispirited middle-aged woman said: “I actually face the unenviable task of choosing between using the dirty water left after washing my nappies to either water my small vegetable garden at home or to flush the toilet.”
It is Friday evening around 11pm and the woman who refused to be named says she has been in the queue for an hour and was hoping that this time, she will be lucky to be home by 3am since the queue was relatively smaller than on other Fridays.
This was due to the fact during that week, water had surprisingly flowed from the taps in Zengeza 1.
Poor residents who do not have enough receptacles to store water are the ones flooding the boreholes with buckets in search of the precious liquid.
Some who are coming from far away areas which have not received water for weeks are using scotch carts whose owners charge as much as $6 to draw and ferry water to their customers’ residences.
School-going children are spending more time searching for water for household use than studying and sadly, those who are wayward have now found love nests though not so secretive, conveniently meeting each other under the pretext of fetching water.
“My old man is the one who is stricter of my parents when it comes to going out at night, but these days he is cooled off by my mother after telling him that I have to go fetch water.
“We take turns on different occasions with my friend to fetch water and also to meet our boyfriends.
Sometimes on a weekend, we even go to nearby clubs to have fun,” was all 16-year-old Mary could say before being whisked away by her equally young boyfriend who seemed uncomfortable with what his girlfriend was saying to this reporter.
In the new Manyame suburb on the verges of the road leading to St Mary’s Police Station from Zengeza turn off, the sorry sight of thirsty residents, mostly women and children many from bordering St Mary’s and Zengeza who are drawing polluted water from wells dug along dry streams is heart-rending.
Some families are even seen bringing their clothes to wash at the wells.
“I can’t go to the borehole as there are too many people drawing water. During the day, I am busy selling vegetables which I buy from Mbare Musika in the wee hours.
“This leaves me with little option but to use this dirty water to cook. I have been doing this for years without falling sick, it’s my God who protects me,” said one of the women who preferred to be called Mai Gire who was waiting for a chance to go down the well to draw water.
Residents are digging wells at their houses and in areas such as St Mary’s, some are supplementing their income by charging neighbours from 5 rand to a dollar per week.
It is common to witness mostly women and children having the option to join queues to fetch water between five or more houses in one road.
Residents are appealing to government to look into their plight with some like Admire Zakaria suggesting that the authorities should look for quicker ways to arrest the pending cholera disaster.
“We are appealing to government especially those in the ruling Zanu PF to consider sinking more boreholes that use electric pumps for each ward. We are using one borehole which cannot meet our needs since water only comes out once a week at night, if it does,” said Zakaria in Zengeza.
According to the newly-elected councillor for Zengeza Ward 7 Zanu PF’s Charamba Mlambo, the lack of a suitable water body in Chitungwiza and corruption in the issuance of stands by past administrations are the sources of the current problems in Zimbabwe’s third most-populated town.
“It’s reliably said that we have illegal connections at more than 20 000 households who illegally acquired stands and such corruption has to stop.
“The situation is compounded by our reliance on Harare to supply us with all our water needs. It’s clear that Harare is facing its own problems on water, they used to hide behind the finger saying that we owe them money, but now all debts have been cancelled and still they can’t supply us.
“We have to find long-term solutions to this water problem because if we don’t we will relax, I can’t say much because we are yet to meet as full council to discuss this,” said Mlambo.
However, residents hoping for the situation to improve after the recent elections cannot wait much longer.