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Harare Residents Face Water Shortage - 2004-09-15

Water rationing has been imposed in Zimbabwe's capital, where water shortages have reached critical levels. About half the city's four-million residents are either short of water or have none at all.

Harare municipality says it is turning the taps off after 3:00 p.m. each day to conserve water.

There is plenty of water in the dams feeding Harare, but the infrastructure taking it to residents is in a state of collapse, according to official statements released to the state-controlled media during the past few weeks.

City officials say the Zimbabwe government has loaned $9 million to upgrade the infrastructure, but repairs will take time.

Several water purification specialists say the water that is available, which is recycled sewage, is not fit to drink because there is no foreign currency to buy and import chemicals to treat it.

Harare has been run by officials appointed by the ruling Zanu PF party almost continually since independence in 1980. But in 2002 residents won a marathon court case to allow them to hold local government elections.

Elias Mudzuri, a water engineer, won the 2002 mayoral election on an opposition Movement for Democratic Change ticket, and set about fixing the city. A year later he and most of the elected council, all MDC members, were sacked by the government.

Mr. Mudzuri says half the city's residents are either chronically short of water or have none coming into their houses at all.

In Mabvuku, a township 20 kilometers east of Harare, residents have broken open city pipes to get at water that is no longer pumped into their houses.

Scores of women were at the broken pipes Tuesday, collecting 20 liters at a time for drinking and washing. Others were digging in fields trying to find a supply.

Many survive because individuals have installed wells at their own cost.

Reason Chaurura has a small business in Mabvuku making concrete fences and bricks. He dug a 13-meter deep well, which is now the only source of water for many families in that part of the township.

"Women are coming here to get collect water because there is a water shortage here in Zimbabwe," he explained. "I think it is all over [the city] in many locations around us, there is this water shortage. This is a problem. So now we are giving women (water) freely, because it is a big problem."

Molly Suwidi a mother of three collects water every day from Mr. Chaurura's well.

"We have a problem; we do not have water so we come here to fetch water in the wells. Some wells charge nine-cents [$500 Zim dollars] per 20 liters," she said.

She said the sewage system at her house does not work because there is no water to flush the toilets, and her children are continually ill.

"We use the bush, we do not pour water [down the toilet]. It smells because the toilets are in front of the kitchens. The [children] get diarrhea because they [use] the toilet without water, and we do not clean the toilets because we do not have water," she said.

In middle class areas, the situation is better because many people have installed tanks on their properties to store water between cuts in supplies. But for the vast majority of the city, finding water, is a never-ending process.