Africa, Headlines

ZIMBABWE: Water, Water Everywhere

Lewis Machipisa

HARARE, Feb 26 1996 (IPS) - Norman Mutibvu travelled the 32 km to Lake Chivero to see for himself if it was true that some of its water will soon have to be released through its spillway into the Manyame River.

Reports that heavy rains since December have raised the water level in the artificial lake, created by damming the Manyame, are good news for Mutibvu and the remaining two million-odd residents of greater Harare.

“Hopefully there will be no more water rationing and penalty fees for surpassing the prescribed limit of water usage because we now have lots of water,” enthused Mutibvu.

Although Harare City Council’s Director of Works, Tongai Mahachi, has said that the lake is less than three-quarter full, Mutibvu is convinced that it’s closer to 98 percent of its capacity.

“Look, it’s only a small fraction from spilling,” he says, pointing to the spillway.

However, the increas in the amount of water in Chivero and the other artificial lakes that supply Harare and surrounding areas has not led the city council to lift water rationing forced by the droughts that hit Zimbabwe in 1991/1992 and 1994/1995.

According to Mahachi, “it would be foolhardy to stop rationing” when Lake Chivero is 73 percent full since the restrictions were imposed when it was 80 percent full. “We have got to be cautious,” he said recently when he dismissed a suggestion from a city councillor that rationing be lifted.

This time last year, water authorities were gloomy as the area’s three supply dams contained slightly more than 2.5 million cubic metres of water or 34 percent of their combined capacity of 7.4 million cubic metres.

As a result, the Harare City Council banned the use of hoses and sprinklers for irrigation, washing cars or filling swimming pools in a bid to cut consumption by about 20 percent.

So little rain fell last season that parliamentary hopefuls were even asked to harp on the need to conserve water during their campaigns for elections held in April 1995.

Now, thanks to the rains, two of the dams supplying Harare with water are 100 percent full and spilling over. Lake Chivero, the main source of water for the metropolitan area, appears to be not far behind.

“It’s only a matter of days before the lake spills,” says Denford Manyora, a labourer who works at Chivero. “No one had given it the chance of filling up. This indeed will be a miracle. If you had come here five months ago you would have seen that the dam was almost empty.”

At one stage, the lake held only eight months’ supply of water for the capital. Now, according to another Lake Chivero employee who refused to give his name, “it’s just 1.75 meters away from spilling.”

He told IPS that over the past few weeks, the lake has been rising by a metre in a week. “So I will give it up to early March for the lake to spill if the rains keep pounding like they are doing these days.”

The 1994-1995 rainy season, according to the Metereological Office, was drier than the great drought of 1992, described as the worst this century. Zimbabwe’s dams were on average only 22 percent full. Lake Mutirikwi, the country’s largest inland lake, had sunk to five percent.

The water-table was reportedly at its lowest in many years while thousands of wells dried up in the communal lands where 80 percent of Zimbabwe’s 10.5 million people eke out a living. But things have changed and water is now in abundance as many rivers are flooded and pouring millions of cubic metres into the dams.

On January 24, Zimbabwe’s 57 largest reservoirs held only about 26.7 percent of their combined capacity. One month on, many are more that half full while close to 20 are spilling, according to reports in the semi-official daily ‘The Herald’.

Zimbabwe’s rainy season lasts from November to March with precipitation ranging from 1,400 mm in the Eastern Highlands to less than 400 mm in southern part of the country.

While the rains bring hope for an end to water rationing in the capital, for farmers in this mainly agricultural country, they mean an end to the despair of watching their maize and other crops wither and die.

And for hundreds of thousands of women in villages scattered throughout Zimbabwe, they mean no more daily treks of 10km or more to fetch water for their families.

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