THE Bulawayo City Council declared a water emergency on Wednesday as officials announced shock water rationing measures which will see water supplies cut to some residents for 24 hours, twice a week.
The city said its supply dams were low on water, with only 90,000 cubic meters available daily, against demand of 140,000 cubic meters.
Engineer Simela Dube, the city’s director of engineering services, said: “If people do not exceed their water allocations, the water we have is likely to last about six months.
“However, if residents abuse water... we could end up with a situation like 2007 whereby water supplies will be available once every week.”
Bulawayo, the urban capital of the parched Matabeleland region, has a century-old water problem.
The region received less than average rainfall this year, and Bulawayo has already decommissioned two supply dams – Upper Ncema and Umzingwane – leaving only three dams: Insiza, Lower Ncema and Inyankuni.
The remaining dams hold about 43 percent water of their combined capacity, with Insiza Dam the healthiest as it accounts for 86 percent of that total.
Dube said the city had no option but to “tighten water rationing”.
The Mtshabezi pipeline could be completed by September, Dube said, but it would only bring an extra 17,000 cubic litres which will not solve the crisis.
The city has drawn up plans for a second pipeline from Insiza Dam to increase extraction, but the government had not responded to the city’s SOS for funding.
Dube said water rationing came with its own hazard: restoration of services has a high risk of bursting pipes due to the sudden surge.
“We urge residents to urgently report pipe bursts so that we minimise the loss of purified water and the time affected areas are without supplies. Seven bowsers are on standby to service areas that will be affected by pipe bursts,” he told a news conference in the Council Chambers.
Town Clerk Middleton Nyoni said: “We must spread the message of water conservation to everyone. The rainy season that we are banking on is uncertain.
“We need to avoid a situation where water will completely run out and the city is declared a disaster area. If that happens, we would have to commandeer all the boreholes in the city, even private ones, so that everyone gets water.”
According to the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (ZINWA), the city’s water woes can be eased slightly if the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA) maintains 24-hour power supply to a pump station in Cowdray Park which receives water from the Nyamandlovu Aquifer.
But ZESA is battling a power shortfall and the state-run power utility employs load shedding across Zimbabwe.
Two weeks ago, Water Resources Minister Sam Sipepa Nkomo announced that a plan drawn in 1912 to construct a 400km pipeline from the Zambezi River to Bulawayo will become a reality in two years after the Chinese government availed US$2 billion for the project.
The Matabeleland Zambezi Water Project is seen as a permanent solution to the water woes experienced by Bulawayo’s population of close to a million people.