By Lenin Ndebele

BULAWAYOZIMBABWE’S major cities and towns are running dry with about three months’ supply of water left, officials have warned.

The greater Harare area which includes satellite towns on the edges of the capital – Chitungwiza, Norton, Ruwa and Epworth –with an estimated four million plus population has embarked on water cuts.

Working class townships such as Budiriro, Hatcliffe, Letombo, Hatfield, Msasa Park and Kamfinsa go for up to five days without water supplies.

These townships were in 2008 the most affected by a cholera outbreak which the government declared a national emergency as it spread to other parts of the country.

The prevailing water crisis, predicted to get worse, is reviving memories of 2008 – and the Harare City Council says it will not wait for the crisis to reach disaster proportions before taking action.

“In places that will be most affected, we’ll deploy water bowsers and these will become permanent features until the situation improves,” Engineer Hosiah Chisango, Harare’s Water Distribution Manager said.

The SADC region has been beset by droughts, high temperatures and a prolonged dry spell, which has destroyed crops and emptied dams.

Harare’s major supply dams, Harava and Seke, were down one percent and 5.7 percent of capacity, respectively, while Lake Chivero – a reservoir on the Manyame River and the main water source – is at 50 percent capacity. Harava and Seke dams will be decommissioned within weeks if the dry spell continues.

In Chitungwiza, a new breed of business people known as “waterprenuers” are taking over where the local authority is failing, selling a 25 litre bucket of water for a US$1.

According to council estimates, a family in the high density areas needs 450 litres of water per day, and in the low density areas 550 litres. This means a family in the low-income high density areas would need US$18 a day to meet its water needs.

In the second largest city, Bulawayo, the combined capacity of the city’s six supply dams stands at 30 percent. Two dams – Upper Ncema and Umzingwane – have reached decommissioning status.

From November 1, Bulawayo’s estimated 500,000 citizens will experience water cuts that could last for days. The city’s residents have harrowing stories of water shortages from 2012 when the city fathers introduced a synchronised toilet flushing system dubbed “The Big Flush” in which residents flushed their toilets at the same time in an attempt to prevent blocked sewage pipes.

In a bucket system, there is not enough water to push dirt to its intended destination, leading to blockages which trigger sewer pipe bursts.

Well-to-do residents have taken to sinking private boreholes at an average cost of US$4,000. Many complain they are having to pay more due to a receding water table.

“We have dealt with more enquiries from desperate residents than at any other time since we started doing business six years ago. We hope it leads to more business,” Bravo Drilling, one of the companies sinking boreholes, said.

The company said the water crisis had seen a proliferation of drilling companies as businesses eye new opportunities to make money.

There are fears uncontrolled borehole drilling could dry up underground streams and decimate the water table.

Some 130km south of Bulawayo, the gold mining town of Gwanda has gone for two weeks without water. Boarding schools in the area could be forced to shut down to avoid disease outbreaks, the town authority warned.

The Zimbabwe National Water Authority (Zinwa), a government entity, is daily using newspapers calling on Zimbabweans to use water sparingly.

In Bulawayo, Zinwa is in the process of rehabilitating 20 boreholes that would pump underground water to increase supply. There is also a nationwide effort to service public boreholes in residential neighbourhoods in preparation for water cuts.

Rural dwellers also find themselves having to walk longer distances to find water from perennial sources, which are sometimes as far as 10km.

To avert a total catastrophe, Zimbabwe and the rest of SADC need heavy rains