At 12 midnight, Grandmother Ambuya Marvelous Mlambo makes her way quietly to the neighbouring borehole armed with her two 25-litre buckets. Scores of other women, young and old, are already at the borehole when she arrives so she has to join the queue.
Those waiting have an average of at least three containers each.
When her turn finally comes, it is already three o’clock in the morning. She laboriously fills her containers before making her way home. An hour later, she can finally sleep, only to get up again at six to prepare something for her 3 grand children before she sees them off to school.
Gogo Mlambo lives in the Gaza high-density suburb of Chipinge and this is the kind of life she has been living for the past 10 years.
Their water taps ran dry leaving them depending on water from springs that are dotted along the banks of a stream that runs along the outskirts of the suburb.
The residents’ situation had slightly changed for the better after UNICEF drilled some boreholes in August last year from which they are drawing water now.
But that was only done in an effort to elude the rampaging cholera outbreak that had hit the country.
But now the few boreholes are strained and some of them are fast wearing out due to excessive use.
Another non-governmental organisation also came in and built some water-holding structures around the springs but that does not protect the water from contamination.
“Raw sewerage is flowing freely as you can see in the direction of the stream and its final destination is in most cases those water holes.
“There are very high risks of disease outbreaks at the moment especially as there is no water in our houses yet we have to use toilets inside.
“All the taps we have in our houses are just there for decoration and last had water flowing through them a decade ago,” one resident Violet Mutanda said.
She complained that the council was deliberately ignoring them and not doing anything to right the situation yet they were sending huge bills of water at the end of every month.
“At one point I received a bill of US$900 and ignored it of course. It is surprising to note that council still acts as if everything is all right with the water situation and expects to generate some revenue from it. Why should we pay for services that we are not getting?” she asked.
Additionally, she said the council had at one point advised them that they (council) no longer had anything to do with their water services but ZINWA had taken over.
She further explained that council had deliberately allowed the situation to degenerate during that time when it was not clear who between them and ZINWA was supposed to be running the show.
On the contrary the council remains adamant that they have everything under control and are doing all they can to improve the residents’ situation even though it will take long for the residents to see and enjoy the results.
“We are currently repairing boreholes so that the water situation improves for the 12 000 residents that are affected.
“To date we have completed repairing two and we are left with one.
“We have all the resources that are needed for the programme, Chipinge town engineer Paul Mlauzi said recently.
He however conceded that the problem had haunted the residents for a very long time as council was incapacitated to draw water from Bangazani Dan about 4km away, a fact that had seen many households’ taps running dry.
At the moment the water crisis has disrupted the residents’ social life severely, as they can not host visitors lest they are embarrassed when the visitors fail to find toilets to relieve themselves.
“The situation is so bad that most people are crossing into the nearby farm to relieve themselves with the worst cases being those of people squatting behind bins to relieve themselves before burying the excretion in their yards or gardens,” one resident said.
She added that it was difficult for them to fetch water for cooking, bathing, laundry and toilets at the same time as they had other demanding domestic chores to attend to too.
“Most children are going to school on empty tummies because the mothers or guardians are busy looking for water, which is sometimes found at distances of between one and two kilometres.
“Imagine travelling all that distance with a bucketful of water on the head and dangling another one,” she added.
The visibly distraught resident also added that malnutrition was rife among children in the suburb, as parents were not getting adequate time to attend to their nutritional concerns, a feat that is difficult in the absence of reliable water sources.
The residents’ situation has been made precarious by the high incidence of free flowing raw sewerage that is evidently taking advantage of the sloping gradient to snake into the stream from which they draw water.
It is not surprising if another cholera outbreak or some other water borne disease were soon to be witnessed in the suburb that has more than 4 000 households, the bigger percentage of which is in dire need of water.
The suburb is now entirely dependent on springs and some bit of borehole water literally transforming it into a “springs suburb” yet the reality on the sanitation system is appalling and needing urgent attention.
Source: Obert Chifamba, The Herald / allAfrica.com, 12 Jun 2010