Zimbabwe’s parched Bulawayo rations to save dwindling water

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Families in the southern Zimbabwean city of Bulawayo are going up to four days without running water as drought dries the dams the city depends on, city council officials said.

The city has since late November imposed 96-hour dry periods for residential water customers, though industrial and business users have continued to receive service, according to the Bulawayo City Council.

An extended drought has reduced supplies of stored water, forcing the city to decommission two of its major supply dams, said Nesisa Mpofu, a spokeswoman for the council.

Shortages of hydropower-produced electricity also have affected the city’s ability to pump water from the dams, she said.

“Out of six dams, Bulawayo now remains with four water sources,” she said.

The four-day water outages - up from three days previously - have spurred widespread local efforts to store more water and to find alternative sources.

Arnold Batirai, a councillor for Nketa, a suburb of Bulawayo, said many residents in his area had access to alternative water sources such as wells or water supply trucks provided by the council.

But he acknowledged that not all borehole wells were still functioning, while shortages of fuel had affected water truck deliveries in some areas.

“Despite these challenges, we do encourage residents to conserve water and report burst pipes or water leakages,” he said.

Many residents now keep buckets or other containers of water in their homes, sometimes filled at their place of work.

“I carry a 25-litre container to work, where I fetch water from the bathroom, mindful of colleagues who may report me to my superiors,” said Siphathisiwe Ndimande, a mother of three who lives in Nketa.

Affluent residents in some suburbs have dug new deep wells in response to dry taps and installed large tanks that store thousands of litres of water.

Other parched residents, such as 71-year-old Mildred Mkandla, have installed water harvesting systems on their homes, to catch what rain falls.

“Residents don’t harvest rainwater but watch it flow away,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“My household is unaffected by the shedding because our main source of water is underground water, while I also harvest rainwater from the roof (and) that’s connected to the taps,” she said.

Mkandla said her household had installed a 46,000-litre (12,000-gallon) water tank to store rainwater, and now does not rely on city water - or pay bills for it.

Nqobizitha Mangaliso Ndlovu, Zimbabwe’s Minister of Environment, Tourism and Hospitality Industry, said several years of drought had created serious problems for Zimbabwe’s water supply.

“We are still recovering from a devastating drought that occurred (in 2018) due to El Nino. Under normal circumstances during this time of the year, the country would have recorded significant amounts of rainfall with impact to our dams,” he said.

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