Recently the City of Harare announced that it will only be able to guarantee potable water to residents only once every 4 days. So what is the problem? Here is a brief history to explain the situation.
The first residents of Harare drew their water from streams and wells. This changed in 1913 when Cleveland Dam in Msasa to the East of the City was built with its associated water treatment plant (this source is still being used by a fertilizer factory nearby). The Prince Edward (now Seke)Dam on the Manyame River to the South of the City followed in the early 1930’s and it pumped raw water to a treatment plant on the Kopje. The McIlwaine (now Chivero) Dam on the Manyame River downstream of Seke was built in the early 1950’s. The Morton Jaffray waterworks was built in stages up till the 1980’s and has a design capacity of 614 million litres per day. In 1974, the Prince Edward (PE) on-site water treatment works was built at Seke Dam (then Prince Edward Dam) with a capacity to treat and pump 90 million litres per day. Harava Dam was completed on the Manyame River upstream of Seke Dam in the 1970’s. The Manyame Dam was completed downstream of Lake Chivero just before Independence in 1980, and the tunnel that brings water from the dam to a deep pump station at Morton Jaffray was completed after Independence.
The current PE works was intended as a peak load plant, to supply the difference between average demand and peak demand during the months between the end of winter and the start of the rainy season. It can empty the two upstream dams (Seke and Harava) in 3 months. It has not been used as a peak load plant for some years now. The PE works can deliver treated water to Chitungwiza, the southern suburbs and to the Letombo reservoirs in Msasa. When PE is not running, the southern suburbs and Chitungwiza may be fed with water from Morton Jaffray, either pumped directly from Warren Control Pump Station or back-fed by gravity from the Letombo reservoirs.
When PE was upgraded in 1974, its intended area of supply was the whole of the southern part of Harare, not just Chitungwiza. At that time the only development in Chitungwiza was St Mary’s and Zengeza 1 was still being built. The massive development to the East of Zengeza was only conceived just before Independence and was built after 1980.
The fact that Seke and Harava Dams are empty is not a reason to further reduce water delivery to the southern suburbs and Chitungwiza. The system was designed so that water from Morton Jaffray can be delivered to these areas. Chivero is currently (July 2019) at 75% of its capacity and Manyame is at 88%, so there is sufficient raw water in these dams to meet the demand for water for Harare.
The problem is that the City does not have the money to procure the requisite water treatment chemicals, to repair or replace the pumps that are broken down, and there are significant losses due to leakage in the aged and now under-capacity reticulation system. The City has failed to upgrade and rehabilitate the water supply system from the treatment works, distribution, storage and reticulation network commensurate with the increase in the population served by the system.
In 1980, Harare had an estimated 400 000 residents. By the time of the 2012 census the population of greater Harare (Harare, Chitungwiza, Epworth, Norton and Ruwa) was 2,100,000. It has been claimed that with all the new developments in and around Harare, the population is now over 4 million – which would make greater Harare similar to Dar es Salaam. Even then, if the population is 4 million and if Morton Jaffray is producing at its design capacity of 614 million litres per day, it would be putting 153 litres per person per day into supply, which would be more than ample.
Non-revenue water (which is the difference between water produced and water billed to consumers) is 60% while recovery on billing is less than 50%. This means that Harare is only getting revenue from less than 20% of the water that it produces. No business can be viable if 80% of its product is lost, stolen or simply not paid for.
The cost of treating the water is also increased by pollution of Lake Chivero from the sewerage systems and surface runoff of Harare and Chitungwiza. The sewage treatment plants at Crowborough and at Firle were designed to treat the effluent to a standard that could be discharged safely in to Lake Chivero, so allowing for increased yield of the lake due to indirect recycling. However, there is wholesale discharge of untreated sewage from blocked sewers and broken down pump stations. Sewage treatment plants have been allowed to deteriorate due to neglect such that they are now dysfunctional and now discharge untreated or partially treated sewage.
It is time that the City gave the full facts about the problems with the water supply situation, and more importantly, what steps it is taking to address and resolve the water supply situation in the short and the long term. The proposed Kunzvi Dam to the East of Harare will only yield about 250 Ml/day, which may benefit the North Eastern suburbs, so it will not be the panacea to the situation.