HARARE, 1 July 2011 (IRIN) – A combined effort by donor agencies, foreign governments, local organizations and the Zimbabwean government is slowly improving the water infrastructure while reducing the chances that cholera will return.
The UN Children’s agency (UNICEF) agreed to supply water treatment chemicals until the end of June 2011 but this has been extended until March 2012, by which time it is hoped that the local government authorities will be able to purchase their own water treatment chemicals.
“Thus far, water treatment chemicals worth over US$10 million have been procured, including over 25,000 tonnes of aluminium sulphate, 700 tonnes of chlorine and 230 tonnes of high test hypochlorite,” UNICEF said in response to written questions from IRIN.
A cholera epidemic began in August 2008 and lasted for a year before it was officially declared at an end in July 2009, during which time it caused the deaths of more than 4,000 people and infected nearly 100,000 others.
The outbreak was attributed to dilapidated and broken sanitation and water infrastructure. Since then, there have been isolated outbreaks of the waterborne bacterial disease, which infects the gastrointestinal system, causing vomiting and diarrhoea. The resulting acute dehydration can kill within 24 hours if left untreated.
Supplying water treatment chemicals will ensure the continued provision of safe water to 20 urban councils and over 100 rural growth points, UNICEF said.
“We are grateful to UNICEF, who positively responded to our request for the extension and gradual withdrawal of the chemicals supply scheme,” Water Resources and Development minister Samuel Sipepa Nkomo told IRIN. “This provides our local authorities an opportunity to start planning for the procurement of the chemicals, using their own funds.”
The Federal Republic of Germany, through its development arm, German International Cooperation, is carrying out a US$12 million infrastructural rehabilitation at four urban centres: Gweru, the third largest city; Kariba on the northern border with Zambia; Norton, 40km south of the capital, Harare; and Kadoma, about 130km south of Harare.
“The two major components of the project provide, on the one hand, assistance to the municipalities with the procurement of key inputs and equipment for water supply, sanitation and solid waste collection,” the German embassy said in a statement. “The second component consists of support to the municipalities regarding the improvement of procedures and management in the areas of finance, accounting, billing and revenue collection.”
The funding will also help rehabilitate water supply and sanitation infrastructure such as treatment plants and pumping stations. Health and environmental activists have warned that the continued discharge of sewage and industrial waste into water systems will create environmental and health disasters in the near future.
Raw sewage discharge
Raw sewage and industrial waste is still being discharged into Lake Chivero, Harare’s main source of water, and an US$18 million rehabilitation of its two main sewerage treatment plants is underway.
However, Bulawayo, the country’s second largest city, has failed to attract the US$1 million funding it needs to repair water infrastructure at one of its large dams, Ncema, and rehabilitate water treatment plants.
“The treatment works continued to struggle to produce enough water to meet the city’s water demands,” the minutes of a recent council meeting noted. “For example, Ncema waterworks can only produce 39,000 cubic metres per day, against a design capacity of 81,000 cubic metres per day.”
Poor rainfall in recent years has added to pressures on water supply and some businesses have relocated to other parts of the country.
“We are working well in partnership with the donor community, but treasury has provided us with money to build new dams or to improve water supply,” water resources minister Nkomo told IRIN.
“We are almost done with building a 40km water pipeline from Mtshabezi Dam, which will improve water supply in Bulawayo. Construction has already started on the construction of Kunzvi Dam [near Harare], which we hope will improve water supply.”