No End in Sight for Bulawayo’s Water Crisis

Despite Bulawayo’s water supply dams receiving significant rainfall inflows in the last rainy season, water shortages have persisted in the city, the alternative—boreholes, raise safety concerns.

As frustrated residents question the water shortages, the council has been at pains to explain why water-shedding remains in place, pushing blame on water pipe bursts and rolling electricity outages for affecting pumping capacity at its Criterion Water Treatment works.

“Residents are advised that this (power cut on June 28) has negatively affected the treatment of water as well as pumping of both raw water and clear water,” read a statement recently by Town Clerk Christopher Dube dated June 29.

This has seen residents turn to boreholes dotted around the city for water supplies but at personal health risk, as the water is not tested and treated for portable use, The Citizen Bulletin established. And to make matters worse, Dube confirms that borehole water is not for portable use. “The city policy is that borehole water is not for portable use, but for secondary use,” Dube says.

A June council report of the Future Water Supplies and Water Action Committee report adds that the quality of borehole water cannot be guaranteed. “Bacteriological quality of borehole water cannot be guaranteed since the water was untreated and subject to contamination at any time from environmental factors like sewer overflows and bacteriological contaminated soil,” reads the City Council report.

A survey by The Citizen Bulletin, particularly in the city’s oldest suburbs, exposes the widespread nature of the pipe bursts, with many suburbs having sewer flowing into people’s homes and to borehole water fetching points.

As of June, Bulawayo had a total backlog of 163 sewer bursts, the council report shows. In 2020, a killer diarrhoea outbreak that claimed 13 lives and infected over 1000 others was blamed on contamination of water sources by sewer among others.

An investigation by the Matabeleland Institute for Human Rights (MIHR) into the quality of borehole water confirms that city residents are being exposed to health hazards by relying on untested borehole water.

In its findings, the MIHR in a report titled, Borehole Water Testing Quality (June 2021), said the BCC only tested 176 out of 350 boreholes in 2019 which cascades to 50.28% of the boreholes tested. In 2020 only 23 out of 350 boreholes were tested making it 6.57% of boreholes tested.

“The inability of the local authority to test enough boreholes in 2019 and 2020 as well as failure to test them in the stipulated frequencies per year, is detrimental to the enjoyment of human rights by Bulawayo residents and especially the right to clean, safe and potable water; right to health and subsequently the right to life,” the MIHR said.

The Constitution (Section 77a) declares for every person “the right to safe, clean and potable water”. The Zimbabwe Water Policy in Section 7.5.6(iv) emphasizes the need for measures for monitoring water safety and cleanliness by stipulating that “each water point will be monitored at least twice per year to verify the suitability of water for human consumption.”

In the 2019 test, 18.75% of the tested boreholes had tested coliform positive and 2.27% had tested faecal positive. In 2020, 17.39% of the 23 boreholes tested were found coliform positive, while 1 had faecal coliforms.

The Coliform positive boreholes were in Nkulumane suburb (5 boreholes), Mpopoma (4 boreholes), Emganwini (3 boreholes), Nketa 7 (3 boreholes), Sizinda (3 boreholes), Northend (3 boreholes), Nketa 8 (2 boreholes) and Newton West, Nketa 9, Nketa 6, Nkulumane 10, Thorngrove, Luveve, City Centre and Khumalo — all had 1 each respectively. The faecal positive test boreholes were in Nketa 7 (1 borehole), Nketa 8 (1 borehole), Nkulumane 5 (1 borehole) and Khumalo (1 borehole).

However, the city’s Town Clerk argued that Bulawayo City (BCC) cannot be held accountable for the poor quality of borehole water.

“…The city cannot guarantee the quality of borehole water because it is not treated and piped to guard against contamination from the soil and sewage overflow among other aspects. In that regard, the council cannot be held accountable for its quality,” Dube said.

Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association (BPRA) gender officer Abigail Siziba took a swipe at city fathers for exposing residents to diarrhoeal diseases by failing to provide safe potable water to residents.

“It is important therefore that BCC adequately and timeously shares information regarding the safety of boreholes as well as labelling boreholes and liaising with resident’s leaders to constantly check whether the labels are in place,” Siziba says.

“Continuous testing of borehole water is also critical as water quality can be affected by various factors such as the level of the water table and over time. Treatment measures where possible should also be adequately shared with residents…”

Source: The Citizen Bulletin

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