Frequent and prolonged droughts in Zimbabwe have forced the government to ration water in two major cities — the capital city Harare and neighboring city Bulawayo, which have a combined population of about 2 million people. Residents have only been allowed to use taps once a week since the rationing policy was implemented a month ago.
Residents in Harare and surrounding towns have been facing water shortages since January, but the situation has grown worse and many homes have gone without water for weeks at a time since the onset of summer.
"It was bad when they started rationing it, we could store water but it is dire now, because we may have no water for days and there is nothing to store," Nyasha Chingo, who lives in Kuwadzana, a township near Harare’s business district told CNN.
Harare authorities estimate that just 50% of people in the city and its four satellite towns currently have access to the municipal water supply.
“There is a rotational water supply within the five towns (including Harare),” Michael Chideme, Harare city council corporate communications manager, told Climate Home News. “Some people are getting water five days a week especially in the western suburbs, but the northern suburbs are going for weeks without a drop in their taps.”
Chideme added that people who were unable to get enough water are now depending on water merchants, open wells, streams, or several council-drilled boreholes.
“The situation is bad, period!” he said.
These alternative water sources are less regulated and may have harmful contaminants that could impact people's health.
“Water-borne diseases linked to these boreholes are on the rise, but people have had to take in their own hands water supply because the utility has failed to provide water,” Dr. Jean-Marie Kileshye from WaterNet, an institution focused on studying water resources, said.
But even the scarce amount of water available to the public through their taps isn’t void of chemicals. Harare’s residents are also dealing with low water quality due to a shortage of expensive water purifying chemicals, which cost USD$3 million per month.
Mabhena Moyo, the Harare Acting Water Director, blamed the current economic situation for restricted water service delivery and for not being able to afford sufficient, safe purifying chemicals.
"We are using more chemicals and we have not been able to procure enough safe chemicals as a result, we are targeting to provide water to our residents with a minimum of once a week's supply of the precious liquid," he said.
Contaminated water can cause water-borne diseases like cholera — an acute diarrheal disease, which can be fatal if untreated — that is estimated to kill about 120,000 people around the world every year. The number of cholera cases in Zimbabwe could rise if the water remains untreated.
The government has also introduced educational workshops and classes for citizens to tackle pollution in available water sources.
“The people across the whole spectrum from households, industries need to be made aware that they are part of the solution to sustainable water in cities,” Kileshye said.