Source: IRIN News
BULAWAYO, 22 Jan 2007 (IRIN) - The residents of Zimbabwe's second city, Bulawayo, have joined the local authority in opposing the takeover of its water distribution network by the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (ZINWA), fearing that the cash-strapped parastatal will create more problems than it will solve in trying to meet the city's water demands.
Bulawayo, in the drought-prone southwestern region of Zimbabwe, receives bulk water supplies from the national authority, but the city authority is responsible for distribution to the city's residents.
ZINWA's track record of water distribution in the capital, Harare, and other regions has been chaotic, but last week the Cabinet granted it the right to assume control of the Bulawayo's water supply network. The local council said this would reduce the city's revenue base by nearly half.
Winos Dube, chair of the Bulawayo Residents Association (BURA), told IRIN the government had erred in handing control of water distribution to the national water authority when the city was facing serious water shortages after two of its five supply dams had been decommissioned because of drought.
"We are against the idea of a ZINWA takeover in the light of its record of erratic service delivery to its bulk water customers across the country. I think ZINWA should stick to its core business, which is to supply bulk water. They should leave the distribution to the city council, which has managed to maintain supplies through a number of crises," Dube said.
"ZINWA has failed in Chitungwiza [a large town near the capital], Harare and [other areas designated as economic] growth points, so we do not need that confusion here, because we are already in a crisis they cannot manage."
Stringent water restrictions have been imposed in the city since 2005, and last week the council said it would begin drawing water from boreholes it had sunk to complement water distribution via its ten designated water collection points around the city.
Instead of imposing ZINWA on Bulawayo, Dube said the government should assist the city by funding the construction of more dams and so avert a major water shortage crisis.
"ZINWA has not fulfilled any of its previous promises, which include the construction of a pipeline to connect the city to idle dams around the province. This issue needs to be re-examined, because we can see ourselves sinking deeper into crisis if ZINWA is not stopped. It is a risk residents are not willing to take."
The residents' organisation was planning protests against the Cabinet's decision to allow ZINWA to assume control of water distribution, in the hope that the decision would be rescinded.
Bulawayo's executive mayor, Japhet Ndabeni-Ncube, told IRIN that although the council was yet to receive formal notification of the takeover, ZINWA officials had already written to the council demanding that they hand over the city's consumer database, billing systems, the water and sewage reticulation network, and information on the staff working in the city's water supply section.
The mayor said there was no doubt that the takeover would result in "total distribution chaos", besides putting the environmental and public health of the city at risk.
"I hope this [taking over local water distribution] is not true. If it is, then we are heading for a major catastrophe, not only in water supply but in all service delivery. We stand to lose more than 40 percent in revenue, which comes from water distribution. That will render us incapable of sustaining other services areas and we may have to cut down," Ndabeni-Ncube told IRIN.
"The ZINWA take over is also bad for the city because, by looking at their record in Harare, the authority cannot supply adequate water. They have failed to deliver water of good quality - a situation that may lead to outbreaks of waterborne diseases. ZINWA is a national disaster."
Despite attempts to contact them, ZINWA officials were unavailable for comment.
A recent report by the auditor-general's office was damning about the national water authority's ability to provide adequate, high-quality water and said ZINWA had failed to provide water to small towns and the growth points of Harare and Chitungwiza, where it was already responsible for water distribution.
Apart from poor service delivery, the authority was also condemned for its failure to run Harare's sewage reticulation networks, which had led to raw sewage being released into city's streams and watercourses. The report had disclosed that the parastatal required more than US$80 million for urgent maintenance work on the Harare and Chitungwiza water and sewage reticulation networks.
Zimbabwe is currently suffering an acute shortage of foreign currency. The country's economic meltdown in the past eight years has been characterised by a slew of other shortages, including food, clean water, fuel and energy, with unemployment levels touching 80 percent and inflation reaching 1,281 percent - the highest in the world.
Ignatius Chombo, Minister of Local Government, Public Works and Urban Development, confirmed that the Cabinet had approved ZINWA's takeover of Bulawayo's water distribution system, but refused to comment on the concerns raised by the city's authorities and residents.