By The Solutions Tower Staff
ONE of the major responsibilities of any government which is worth its salt concerns its capacity to provide basic social amenities to its people. World water sources are under pressure from continuing population growth and urbanisation, rapid industrialisation as well as the need to expand and intensify food production, particularly in developing countries and in many urban areas across the globe.
As the overall demand for water grows, the resultant quantity of wastewater and its overall pollution load are continuously increasing worldwide, representing a global threat to human health and well-being, with both immediate and long term consequences for efforts to reduce poverty and at the same time sustain the integrity of some of our most productive ecosystems.
Wastewater management has emerged as one of the main challenges facing Zimbabwe’s municipalities and water pollution is a disaster waiting to happen. Volumes of wastewater being generated continues to increase at a much faster rate compared to the ability of city authorities to meet both the financial and technical resources required to parallel this growth. Wastewater mismanagement is not a new phenomenon to Zimbabwe, but a historical fact.
Despite promulgation of many ordinances by the colonial government to strengthen urban administration, native suburbs remained regarded as residential areas for the inferior. Not any serious efforts to resolve the emerging problems were made, particularly pertaining to sound wastewater management.
According to Nhapi (2009), the colonial desire for a sanitary and pleasant environment for white settlers was enforced through segregation and ordinances. This was a time of racial segregation, with colonialists and natives confined to different quarters of the city.
Areas inhabited by colonialists were well planned and characterised by basic sanitation facilities, provided either free of charge or at heavily subsidised rates. Sadly, the Zanu PF government inherited this system and never bothered to rectify it.
Harare and Chitungwiza Challenges
Current authorities are struggling to manage effluent under a regime of supposed perennial shoestring budgets, including highly inadequate and malfunctioning equipment. Poor and unhygienic practises by residents such as indiscriminate illegal dumping and littering are worsening the problem. Awareness of what would pass for responsible waste management disposal is almost nonexistent.
Zimbabwe cities, especially Chitungwiza and Harare’s waste management systems need serious rehabilitation, first on an emergency basis, and then followed by development and implementation of long-term sustainable measures.
Since Zimbabwe’s attainment of independence 37 years ago, waste management in Harare has amounted to political chess. Responsibility for waste management has changed hands from one department to another within the City of Harare, for instance, with each change further deteriorating the system, and almost bringing it to the verge of collapse.
Current squabbles, for instance, between the Minister of Local Government and councils of many cities have not helped either, and instead have worsened service delivery and wastewater management. In most cases, City Fathers have preferred self-aggrandisement.
Furthermore, monitoring and enforcement of regulations with regards to wastewater in Harare is poor, mainly as a consequence of economic hardships and a lack of political will to deal with the problem. Many cities are also failing to raise tariffs to economic levels owing to heavy lobbying by residents, as well as at time unwarranted interference by Central Government.
A high proportion of residential suburbs in Harare are connected to the sewer network that lead to Crowborough and Firle-activated sludge plants which, according to Nhapi (2009), are overloaded. The total design capacity of these plants is 208,000m3/d compared to total current inflows of about 300,000m3/d, thereby resulting in 44% overloading.
The above has led to disastrous implications on downstream water quality, with large volumes of untreated wastewater being discharged into rivers of Marimba and Mukuvisi, which in turn drain into Lakes Chivero and Manyame, the city’s major sources of water.
Fifty percent of the pollution load discharged into Lake Chivero is reportedly attributed to urban wastewater, with Harare’s sewerage system currently highly dysfunctional.
For instance, a number of high density suburbs have had almost every road turned into a sewage stream and more recently, over 2,200 suspected cases of typhoid fever have hit Harare, including other centres in the country.
Many of Zimbabwe’s cities and towns suffer from intermittent water supplies, blockages to the sewage system and a sporadic rubbish collection service; all factors which could contribute to outbreaks of other waterborne diseases such as malaria and cholera.
Blockages and overflows have been a daily occurrence, caused by a myriad of reasons ranging from sand accumulation to undesirable debris in the sewage such as newspapers, plastic bags and others.
Climate Change and Water Management
Climate change has affected water availability in both time and space thus influencing water usage practices. Anticipation of more droughts and extreme rainfall events has had an impact on non-existent or old, inadequate wastewater treatment facilities thus highlighting the need for infrastructure that could cope with extreme surges of wastewater.
Floods have also accelerated the spread of diseases in low lying areas through the flooding of open sewage or inadequate sewage infrastructure. Increasing pressure on water sources through unreliable rainfall has also pushed the exploitation of groundwater sources as others (sources) decline.
However, the increasing expansion of cities with little planning, the heavy infrastructure build up and continuous dwindling of green rain-absorbing vegetation inside cities have exacerbated the wrath of climate change on wastewater management. The effects of climate change are exacerbated by the rapidly increasing physical expansion of cities, deforestation and grazing of uplands surrounding cities, including the heavy build-up of infrastructure and lack of green rain-absorbing vegetation of areas inside cities.
Zimbabwe may not be able to overcome its water-related problems under the current set-up. There is need for a Corporate Body, free from political influence and with a higher degree of autonomy, to be established to run the water services of the country’s cities. Such a body would need a sound and flexible system for setting tariffs and enacting and or enforcing reasonable regulations.
Emphasis should be placed on rehabilitating and enhancing the water supply system, strengthening institutional capacity, enhancing service delivery efficiency and contributing to environmental improvement through rehabilitation of sanitation infrastructure. This includes improving the sewer drainage capacity, rehabilitation of wastewater treatment facilities as well as strengthening community participation and buy-in.
In the near future if Water Pollution is not taken seriously by the Central Government and Municipalities, it will become a disaster waiting to happen.
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