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Notes from the Wetlands Survival Forum - Harare water crisis public meeting
Amanda Atwood, Kubatana.net
November 04, 2013

The Wetlands Survival Forum convened a public dialogue on the Harare water crisis on Tuesday 29 October at the Highlands Presbyterian Church.

More than 150 people attended, and heard remarks from the invited speakers as well as well as comments and questions from the floor.

Present from city government were Harare Mayor Bernard Manyenyeni, Harare Ward 9 Councillor Stewart Mutizwa, Ward 8 Councillor Chris Mbanga and Ward 18 Councillor Rusty Markham, who also moderated the discussion.

Opening the meeting, Councillor Rusty Markham noted that the Harare water area under discussion services 4.2 million people - one third of Zimbabwe’s population.

In his remarks, Mayor Manyenyeni noted the following:

  • Harare is sitting on a planning deficit of more than 20 years. The city has lost time and credibility, and is facing a crisis in its ability to supply water.
  • Solutions to Harare’s water crisis will take 5 or more years to develop, fund and implement. So the problems are greater than any councillor’s current term in office.
  • The City of Harare is not an attractive loan or investment candidate, particularly when $330 million worth of debt gets written off. The municipality is not very bankable.
  • The city’s water table is dropping steadily, and encouraging people to sink boreholes is not a viable solution.
  • Harare’s wetlands have been encroached upon with impunity. This contributes to the problem.

Alan Chimanikire then briefly introduced the audience to the Wetlands Survival Forum, which was established in July this year with the objective of brining different voices together to improve water delivery.

Rusty Markham asked for a show of hands, and 90% of the audience said they had not had a regular (2 or more days per week) supply of water in the past 6 months.

Engineer Chisango from Harare Water distribution presented the problems facing the city in terms of piped water. Some of these included:

  • City has 2 water treatment facilities. One was built in 1953 and was last upgraded in 1994. The other, Morton Jaffray, was last upgraded in 1998.
  • The city’s overall infrastructure has also been poorly maintained, so there are many leaking pipes.
  • The pollution levels in raw water are high, which chokes the filtering system and further lowers supply.
  • The system needs 10% pipe replacement each year just to maintain supply. This has not been happening for several years.
  • The proposed 3 year project with Chinese support should boost water production for Morton Jaffray
  • Improvement in the water supply should begin in May 2014, and residents should be receiving four days of water each week by the end of 2014.

Geologist Tim Broderick shared a presentation on ground water – what it is, why it’s there and how it functions. Among his points were:

  • Harare’s geology is complex. This makes addressing Harare’s water issues complicated.
  • Wetlands act as sumps and regulators for ground water
  • Annual rainfall recharges only 2-4% of Harare water. The rest goes to run off and evapotranspiration.
  • There are over 10,000 boreholes in Harare’s northern suburbs.
  • Water is coming out of Harare’s water table at a much greater rate than it is getting recharged. Harare is effectively mining water – The annual abstraction is much greater than the replacement each year.
  • Abstraction of bulk water is also a problem. A Statutory Instrument was gazetted to address this.
  • Solving Harare’s water problems needs discipline from everyone, including individual consumers.
  • At a minimum, individuals should conserve water through their individual behaviour, such as not watering their lawns / gardens.
  • Wetlands are an important central feature for Harare’s water supply. Borrowdale vlei feeds the Gwebi river. Highlands’wetlands feeds the Mukuvisi River. This then feeds Lake Chivero, which stores water for Harare supply.

Nobel Laureate biologist Chris Magadza took the floor to speak about underground lakes.

  • According to Magadza’s recent observations, there has been a massive loss of storage from Lake Chivero due to sediment. Sediment is filling in the lake, decreasing its depth, and meaning that it can store less water.
  • Sediment is accumulating because of erosion from urban cultivation and dirt from the roads running into the gutters and storm drains.
  • According to the Environmental Management Act, the Ministry can step in to stop development in order to protect wetlands.
  • There is no exception in the law – Wetlands are protected by legislation.
  • Loss of storage at Lake Chivero is entirely due to mismanagement of wetlands.
  • The rubbish running off the streets, into the storm drains, into the Mukuvisi River and on to Lake Chivero is enough to keep the lake (and therefore Harare’s water supply) polluted.
  • Damage the wetlands and you risk damaging homes and property - As is being witnessed by residents on Kennilworth Road (Newlands, where the ZiFM studio is).

Following the presentations, remarks were invited from the floor. These included:

  • Given the importance of wetlands for Harare’s water supply, how could developments like the Sports Stadium and Borrowdale Mall get the go ahead?
  • Suggestion to require borehole owners to capture rainwater to recharge the water table.
  • Suggestion to ban watering gardens and verges.
  • Local authorities were overruled by national government, which pushed through Borrowdale and National Stadium developments, said Councillor Mutizwa.
  • Laws to protect Harare’s wetlands and water supply need to be enforced, for example through collective action with the Wetlands Survival Forum, said Councillor Rusty Markham.
  • Corruption is the biggest problem facing Harare water, said one audience member.
  • Another audience member cited the issue of properties being subdivided into smaller places for more users than were originally planned for.

At the invitation of the Mayor, Mike van Blerk from HFA shared some information about the Borrowdale mall development. His remarks included:

  • The problem with Harare’s water is a lack of planning and lack of finance.
  • Consider constructive alternatives such as top standing water storage in lieu of wetlands at Borrowdale development site.
  • What about indigenous trees like musasas instead of water thirsty gum trees? The development will plant 800 water conserving trees. Contrast this with the gum trees planted by Forestry Commission at the top of the Newlands wetlands.
  • We pledge to protect Harare’s water.

In response, Tim Broderick noted that replacing wetlands with artificial drainage or gullies undermines the effectiveness of these wetlands (their sump and purification functions).

More questions from the audience included:

  • Why has there been no Harare water supplied to the Emerald Hill School for the Deaf for 9 years, but there is water being piped right past the school to the University of Zimbabwe?
  • How much will the Chinese loan cost us and what are the terms? Answer from Rusty Markham: Loan is for $144 million. There are no repayments due for the first 5 years, and the repayment terms after that are reasonable.
  • Flush toilets waste a lot of water. Place a few bricks (wrapped in plastic, or 500mL plastic water bottles) in the cistern to reduce water usage.
  • Learn from places like Australia to limit water usage and conserve water.

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