Pamenus Tuso

Bulawayo—Residents in Bulawayo have engaged lawyers to protest against the second capital’s municipality over a festering water crisis that has seen most parts of the city go dry for long periods, NewsHub has learnt.

Through the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), the Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association (BPRA) on 26 February wrote a letter to the local authority protesting against severe shortages of safe, clean and potable water, in contravention of Section 77(a) of the constitution.

In the letter, the residents complained that water rationing in the city was at its worst ever, with suburbs experiencing prolonged water rationing.

According to the residents, the water crisis has left “critical public institutions such as medical facilities and institutions of learning without alternative water sources such as boreholes”.

Citizens and residents seeking services at the institutions were being forced to bring their own water, reads the petition.

In view of the crisis, the residents requested that Bulawayo be declared a water shortage area by the Lands ministry, in accordance with Section 61 of the Water Act.

The residents further want a presidential decree declaring the city a water disaster area in line with Section 27 of the Civil Protection Act.

“The residents demanded to be furnished, within seven days, with information on the steps and measures that the City of Bulawayo and the relevant stakeholders, which include government, were taking to address and arrest the current and perennial water crisis in the country’s second largest city,” reads a ZLHR statement on the residents’ petition.

The deadline has since expired and the council, through Sikhangele Zhou, the chamber secretary, indicated that it was consulting its engineering department for a way forward but residents are insisting that they will take legal action against the municipality if no there is no meaningful response. 

The city’s director of engineering services, Sikhumbuzo Ncube, says dams feeding Bulawayo are, on average, 41 percent full.

One of the key water sources, Umzingwane Dam, has been decommissioned as its levels are very low due to poor inflows during the 2023-24 rain season.

Last year during this time, the dams were between 65 and 70 percent full. 

The other dams which also supply the city are Inyakuni, Insiza, Upper Ncema , Lower Ncema , Mtshabezi as well  Nyamandlovu and Epping Forest aquifers.

“We all appreciate the water situation remains critical. Our water levels in the city dams are at (an average of) 41 percent yet we are approaching the end of the rain season.

“This means we are going to sustain the 120-hour weekly water shedding for a prolonged period, maybe up to December,” said Ncube during a tour of some of the city’s water projects by the Netherlands ambassador to Zimbabwe, Margret Verwijk, last Tuesday.

Recently, city mayor David Coltart also asked the government to declare the city a water shortage area but the Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development minister, Anxious Masuka, refused to accede to the request challenging, the city fathers to explore alternative water sources.

The BPRA chairperson, Ambrose Sibindi, described the current water crisis as “alarming” and rapped government’s refusal to give the city a special water shortage status, saying that would reinforce the perception that Bulawayo and parts of southern Zimbabwe were being systematically marginalised.

“The water situation in the city is really alarming.  Some residents have gone for weeks without water. Already the city fathers have indicated that our dams, combined, now have very little water yet the government continues with this ostrich mentality of burying its head in the sand (by refusing to declare Bulawayo an emergency case).

“When people from this region talk about marginalisation, these are some of the concerns which they will be raising,” said Sibindi in an interview with NewsHub.

The BPRA chairperson noted that the declaration of the city as a water shortage area would have paved the way for strategic interventions by local and international partners.

He called upon the government and council to come up with short-to-medium term solutions to the city’s mounting water woes.

“There is now need for more boreholes in the city. In areas where the water table is low, council should also consider more water kiosks and bowsers. Council should consider double pipes to increase its capacity,” said Sibindi.

Inyakuni Dam that can potentially supply a significant amount of water to the second capital is reported to be enjoying high levels of the precious liquid but is facing unspecified pumping challenges.

Bulawayo city has been facing perennial water shortages due to erratic rainfall, amid accusations of poor planning and mismanagement by both the local and central governments. 

The Gwayi/Shangani dam has been touted as the panacea to the city’s water problems, but the project has taken too long to complete. 

Initially, the dam, which is expected to be the third-largest inland water body in Zimbabwe after Kariba Dam and Tugwi-Mukosi, was set for completion by December 2024. 

After missing the deadline, Masuka said the man-made lake would be completed ahead of the 2023/24 summer cropping season but progress on the dam is still slow.