The Water Crisis in Bulawayo
The last time a new water source was constructed for the supply of raw
to Bulawayo was over 30 years ago, apart from the aquifer scheme that
meant to deliver 40 000 cubic metres of water a day but which has never
exceeded 16 000 cubic metres. At that time the City was much smaller
is today and consumption demand has more than quadrupled to 150 000 to
000 cubic metres of water a day.
When the supply dams of Bulawayo were constructed (mainly by the
City Council) they were designed to hold three years supplies of raw
for the City. Because the City lies in a semi arid zone, this is
the minimum needed to ensure that supplies could be maintained over the
period of a series of drier than normal seasons.
Given the growth in consumption, local residents and the City Council
expressed concern about the need for new raw water sources and many
different schemes have been proposed and attempted. The supply of water
the Zambezi River has been talked about since the 1920ís and has been
subject of several studies and investment proposals. More recently the
Gwaai/Shangani Dam has been proposed together with a pipeline to the
No progress has been made on any of these grandiose schemes.
Now, after several years of inadequate run off (as opposed to rainfall
they are not directly related) the 5 existing supply dams are nearly
exhausted. Three have been decommissioned and of the two remaining
only one (Insiza) has significant water resources left. The main
being the fact that this dam is unable to deliver sufficient raw water
the system because of limitations to the flow which the gravity fed
As result, Bulawayo is now receiving less than a quarter of its needs
hundreds of thousands of homes are without a consistent supply of clean
water from Municipal sources. This affects the high-density townships
as these are often at the very end of the distribution system. If run
this summer is again inadequate, the City could run out of water
and this would have catastrophic implications.
There are four alternative sources that could help alleviate the
shortages. The first would be the installation of pumps at Insiza Dam
push water deliveries from this dam to 70 000 cubic metres a day. The
would be boreholes - several hundred have been drilled in the City
another 70 on a major aquifer to the north of the City. A number of
boreholes have been drilled in the high-density areas in recent years
fitted with hand pumps and these are being used today to try and meet
basic needs of the communities in which they are located.
If the State had consented to the request by the City a year ago to
the City a Water Emergency Area then the Council could have taken
borehole water supplies and this might help in certain areas with good
The aquifer could also supply some 15 000 cubic metres of water a day
per cent of demand and a 25 per cent increase in present water supplies
Zinwa - the Authority that controls the system, has allowed this
fall into disrepair and despite the allocation of funds to the
year ago for rehabilitation purposes, no progress has been made and
000 cubic metres of water is being received from this source.
The third option would be the supply of water from the Mtshabezi Dam in
Matopo Hills some 25 kilometers from the nearest water intake point for
Bulawayo pump station at Ncema. In an emergency such as this, some 30
cubic metres of water a day could be pumped from the dam to the City
though the long term allocation of water from this source is only 5 000
cubic metres per day. Despite promises, progress on this project has
slow and there are no signs that it will be ready in time to assist
situation in the near future.
In the longer term the City has accepted proposals to recycle
recovered from its effluent system and pump the recovered water to the
purification plant for blending and processing prior to distribution to
City. This project, which could be developed as a public/private
partnership, is capable of yielding up to 60 000 cubic metres of water
day and would extend the life of the existing raw water supply dams. An
initial phase based on the effluent plants at SAST 1 and 2 would yield
000 cubic metres of water a day and this would constitute the fourth
for the City
The immediate implementation of these four measures would create the
for the City to pursue new raw water sources, as appropriate, in the
There are several options for this that could be considered. However,
progress on such a system is possible if the State persists in its
for the City to relinquish control of its water purification and
reticulation system as well as its effluent system to Zinwa without
So the people of Bulawayo suffer water shortages and the resultant
to public health while the State dithers over new projects and denies
City the capability to do the job itself as it always did in the past.
new administration that comes to power in Zimbabwe will have to make
decisions to remedy this situation and one thing seems quite clear -
energy and capacity of the people of the City must be harnessed to
the solutions to the water crisis in order to ensure it does not recur.
An emergency programme could be implemented immediately by a
sector partnership to undertake the development of the four options
above. These are: -
1. Take over the aquifer from Zinwa and refurbish all boreholes and get
yield up to 25 000 cubic metres per day.
2. Install high volume pumps at Insiza to raise deliveries from this
25 000 cubic metres per day.
3. Construct a pump station at Mtshabezi Dam and a 25 kilometer
deliver 25 000 cubic metres per day to Ncema.
4. Install a recovery system for wastewater at SAST to recover 15 000
metres of water per day for recycling to Criterion Water Works.
The combined effect of this operation would be to restore water
Bulawayo to 140 000 cubic metres per day - enough for restricted full
to the City. Since the State clearly does not have the capacity or the
resources to undertake this emergency programme it should be left to
private sector working with the Bulawayo City Council. Under this
arrangement Zinwa would revert to maintaining the 6 supply dams for
and would wholesale raw water to the City from those dams.
Such an exercise would do nothing to obviate the necessity for the
construction of a new raw water source for the City and the
such a project should be immediately re-examined. The possible projects
should be costed and evaluated on the basis of their ability to meet
future needs of the City at a cost that when blended with the cost of
from existing dams, is acceptable to the residents.
Bulawayo, 7th September 2007