Bulawayo’s flat dwellers, mostly middle income earners and the elderly, are paying for the intransigence of the government to meet the city’s water needs as they have been slapped with hefty water surcharge bills that may force some to abandon the flats.
The water bills which are two to three times the monthly rental or mortgage payments have forced some residents to have water for only one hour a day raising fears of an outbreak of cholera.
Incidentally, the residents are being punished so harshly when studies by the council have indicated that if and when water rationing is lifted residents will continue to save water for two years and will only be using 80 percent of the projected demand.
Bulawayo, which has only enough water to last until September under stringent water rationing, is to spend $130 million to ensure that the city of more than one million stays alive.
The city is now trying to survive on 47 000 cubic metres of water a day with flat dwellers restricted to 216 litres a day while householders can use up to 360 litres a day. Non-water based industries have now been allocated 42.5 percent of their consumption in the six month period ending on November 30, 1990 while water-based industries can use 59.5 percent of their consumption for the same period.
Stiff penalties have also been imposed with householders exceeding their ration by 10 cubic metres a month being asked to pay $100 for every cubic metre.
Flat-dwellers are the worst affected because they use bulk metres yet they also face the unsurmountable task of controlling consumption since each unit is a household on its own as most of the flats are now owned under sectional title. One block of flats had a water bill of $25 000 in one month.
Although the city has been promised water from the Nyamandlovu aquifer by October, it continues to stiffen water allocations.
The Town Clerk, Mike Ndubiwa says the council is drilling 450 boreholes mostly in the high density suburbs to ensure that life in the city continues after September. It has also suspended the drilling of private boreholes and restricted use of borehole water particularly the sale over 1 000 litres of borehole water without council authority.
Several companies selling water in bowsers have sprung up in the city. Fines of up to $1 000 will be charged for contravening these regulations.
The government is also trying to ensue that water is available from the Nyamandlovu aquifer about 40 km north-west of the city. Local Government Minister, Joseph Msika, says the project should be completed by October. But at the same time the government has told the council not to award any tenders for the construction of 47 km pipeline from Nyamandlovu to the city and has instead suggested that the Chinese team presently constructing a pipeline to Ncema Dam, where water from all the supply dams is pumped to Bulawayo, should be switched from that project to the Nyamandlovu project.
A South African company, KBH Industrial, had won part of the tender which was to be done jointly with Morewear Industries of Zimbabwe. KBH and Morewear beat seven other contenders including Wavin of UK, Pont-A-Mousson of France and Pandio of Dubai.
The three companies were disqualified because they did not meet the tender requirements. Wavin’s tender, for example, was $116.7 million all of which had to be in foreign currency with delivery in 52 weeks when the delivery period was fixed at 13 weeks. KBH’s tender was for $28.6 million.
Ndubiwa also said consultants were working on water recycling schemes while the council was working on plans to abstract dead water (water that is normally below suction point) from the supply dams once live water has been exhausted.
Although Ndubiwa declined to answer questions of a political nature which laid the blame for the city’s present debacle on the government and ZANU-PF politics which punished the city for being ZAPU-controlled before the 1987 Unity Agreement, he said prior to 1976 the council had always ensured it had enough water for the next 10 years.
At that time the council built its own supply dams but after the Water Act of 1976 the authority to build dams was removed from all local authorities and became a responsibility of the Ministry of Water, Energy Resources and Development. Fortunately the council had just built Insiza Dam, which is now its main source of water, the previous year.
The government, on the other hand, has not built a single dam to augment Bulawayo’s water supply in 16 years.
Ndubiwa said despite the critical water shortage applications for development permits and building plans for approval by the council had continued normally. He, however, said a number of industrialists had surrendered stands they had bought for expansion but they cited lack of finance and unfavourable economic climate and not water shortage as the reason for not developing. A Steel company surrendered two stands while an engineering company surrendered another.
He also noted that although a large number of stands in the industrial, commercial and residential sectors had been sold most were undeveloped. Council was now reluctant to offer stands to large water-based industries.
If, however, the country has a good rainy season this year and the dams that supply the city with water fill up, the present dams can meet the city’s requirements up to 1996, by which time the Zambezi Water Project, if approved by the Government, would be on line. Even if the government decides to build the Gwayi-Shangani River Dam to supply the city with water, it will have been completed by then.
“Records from monitoring past relaxation of water rationing have shown that consumption will still be below 80 percent of projected demand two years after rationing has been lifted,” Ndubiwa said. He said this was because people will have become so accustomed to using less water that it will take up to two years for them to fully utilise their normal requirements.
He said projected demand for 1996 is 65 million cubic metres while the total yield from the dams in 66.6 million cubic metres. As such, the council believes the augmentaion of the pipeline to Ncema is still necessary.
The city and its residents have, however, pinned their hopes on the Zambezi Water Project as the ultimate solution to Bulawayo’s water problems. So far a trust set up by city residents has raised more than $7 million for the project. The Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) has pledged another $12 million which still has to be approved by the government.
Besides, the Matebeleland Zambezi Water Project (MZWP)’s consulting engineers WLPU of South Africa, Knight Piesold of Harare and Skanska Interantional of Sweden say they have obtained the necessary funding for the entire project provided the Zimbabwe government agrees to underwrite and guarantee the loans.
The funding made available by seven, as yet unnamed, countries comprises $650 million in foreign commercial loans at 9 percent interest, and a soft loan of $745 million at 5 to 6 percent interest.