Despite the formation of the coalition government in 2009, Harare and several other cities still face serious water problems. The Mayor of Harare, Muchadeyi Masunda, joins Lance Guma on Question Time and answers questions from SW Radio Africa listeners on this emotive issue. Does he agree the current typhoid outbreak is a symptom of failure? Why are residents receiving charges for services they are not getting?
Interview broadcast 22 February 2012
Lance Guma: Good evening Zimbabwe and thank you for joining me on another exciting edition of Question Time. My guest tonight is the Mayor of Harare, Mr Muchadeyi Masunda and the basis for this interview as has been pointed out in our promos is that despite the formation of a coalition government in 2009, Harare and several other cities still face serious water problems.
So we’ve got the Mayor onto the programme to try and tackle questions around this and many other issues. Let’s start off with the water problems, why do we still have them?
Muchadeyi Masunda: Good evening listeners.
The water situation boils down to simply the inadequate capacity in terms of the water treatment facilities, to treat the raw water and make it available to the consumers.
Now just to give you an example to bring things into sharp focus, the demand for water within Greater Harare and including Chitungwiza, Norton, Ruwa and Epworth, during the winter months it’s 1200 mega litres a day.
During summer months like now, it goes up to 1400 mega litres a day and the installed capacity at the main water treatment plant which is Morton Jaffrey, that is the plant that abstracts water from Lake Chivero and Lake Manyame, the installed capacity and I think you will need to understand this, the raw water is there in those two large reservoirs namely Lake Chivero and Lake Manyame.
What is not there is the capacity to treat that water because the capacities out there now at Morton Jaffrey is 614 mega litres a day.
Guma: So what’s needed to increase this capacity? What’s needed?
Masunda: Well what ought to have happened in the past, say around the mid-seventies was for the capacity that I’m talking about to have been enhanced for that water treatment facility to be able to treat more than it does at the moment.
And the second water treatment facility is a replica of Morton Jaffrey and that is the Prince Edward Water Treatment Plant which is more popularly known but its acronym, PE and that plant abstracts water from Harava and Seke dam and the installed capacity there is 90 mega litres.
So we have the combined installed capacity of 614 plus 90 which makes it a total of 704 mega litres. So on a good day, ZESA permitting, we produce between 620 and 640 mega litres which is a far cry from the 1200 that is required during the winter months and the 1400 which is required in summer.
Guma: When you came in as Mayor, you came in on the back of a promise to use your vast experience in business and your contacts in business to be able to source these things and take care of the problems. What has happened?
Masunda: Well I can proudly say that since I came into office the production of potable water has increased from around 300 to the 620, 640 that I’m talking about. So that’s a considerable improvement and what must be borne in mind, is that when we came into office in July 2008, the systems were kaput in more ways than one.
Not only were the systems kaput because of some serious neglect that borders perilously close to criminal negligence but there were huge sums of money which were owed and that situation got worse with the advent of dollarization because at the end of January 2009, we wrote off as a City, all the Zim dollar denominated balances and started from scratch like everyone else and as we speak, we are owed in excess of 200 million dollars by various consumers ranging from individual consumers, corporate consumers and government ministries and government agencies.
Guma: So are you saying if that money was to be paid, you would be able to develop the capacity and supply enough uninterrupted water?
Masunda: Yes it would make a huge difference, a huge difference and I’m pleased to say that there’s been an appreciable reduction of the amount that had been owed by government.
For instance, as at the end of January the amount owed by government has come down to around 48 million and yet a couple of months ago it was creeping closer and closer to 100 million; But the amounts owed by the corporate sector and individual consumers are nearer 100 million in this instance and close to 200 million.
Guma: What are the figures here in terms of what you need to supply water uninterruptedly? What’s the figure because a lot of questions from listeners, we have one question from Mina Yetu on Face Book for example, who wants to know who is to blame for this water crisis – the central government or the local government?
Masunda: No I don’t think it’s in anyone’s interest to, for us to play the ‘blame game’ because that’s not going to put water on the table. What I think we need to do is to all of us to put our shoulders onto the wheel and honour our obligations and pay the bills as and when they fall due in spite of the fact that in certain instances, many of us would not be receiving the service.
And for instance, there’s work that we are doing to reclaim water for instance from the (inaudible) plant that had been installed a couple of years ago but had been abandoned because there weren’t enough funds and what that we’re doing there is going yield a considerable amount of water, this is reclamation system whilst we work on the longer term projects.
And the other thing that needs to be done and done very quickly like yesterday is for us to replace the piping system which had rotted over the years. You will recall no doubt that around I think 2009 we managed to get 17.1 million dollars, courtesy of the multi-donor trust fund and we used all that money to replace the piping system within the CBD and certain industrial areas. So we need to do more of that so that there’s less water lost, treated water lost and make that water available.
Guma: The issue of people receiving bills when they haven’t received a service – that’s a sore point for a lot of residents and we’ve received several emails on that; people are not happy with that. Why should they pay for something they are not receiving?
Masunda: And what is the alternative? Only two weeks ago I paid a total of one thousand nine hundred dollars to ZESA; I’d not received a ZESA bill for quite a while and I’d been dutifully paying round about a hundred dollars, two hundred dollars every month waiting for the statement to come and when that statement eventually came it was one thousand, eight hundred and sixty five dollars and I paid it in good faith because it’s a chicken and egg situation.
You know we are in a deep, deep hole as a country and a city and I think what we need to do is to stop looking backwards as to what got us into that deep hole and all look for solutions on the way forward.
Guma: But people will say it’s just impunity on your side as people in authority, you’ll just demand whatever you want, even including making people pay for services they are not receiving. Why not provide the service and then expect money in return for it?
Masunda: There’s no, I’ve no qualms at all with that argument but people need to realize that all the services that are, need to be offered have a cost in terms of real money and that money’s got to come from somewhere and a lot of people are labouring under the mistaken belief that the City of Harare and other urban local authorities get something from cabinet. We don‘t.
We have to generate our own revenue and that has been the case even long before independence and that money has got to come from somewhere. Money doesn’t grow on trees, we all know that.
Guma: I’ve been sifting through the 2012 national budget and in terms of resource allocation it seems pretty clear that and it’s feeding a lot of resentment from a lot of people that some things like foreign trips are being prioritized by government, luxury cars being prioritized by government and when people hear you say there’s no money to do A, B, C, D it makes them angry.
Masunda: Yes, understandably angry but it’s not for me to speak on behalf of these expensive chariots that are procured for government but what I can do is to speak on behalf of what happens in the City. To give you an idea – if we were to commission this large disposal and water reclamation plant at Morton Jaffrey Waterworks and that’s at a cost of seven million dollars that will immediately avail an additional 40 mega litres of potable water a day.
And if we were to rehabilitate the, some of the clarifiers at Morton Jaffrey and the total cost we estimated will be around eight million, that will increase the water production by another 57 mega litres a day. And then of course, we’ve got to start working on the distribution network and we’re looking at another 60 million dollars and that will make another 100 mega litres of water available because a lot of water, as much as 50, around, over 40%, closer to 50% is being lost through leakages and theft, vandalism and pilferage.
Guma: My next question comes from Mike Davis, I’m sure you know him – a former chairperson of the Combined Harare Residents Association – he says “when he (Masunda) was mayor, we lost 4000 plus citizens to cholera, yet two years later we are facing typhoid. What has he done to address these symptoms of failure?”
Masunda: Well the 4000 poor souls who lost their lives, it wasn’t all in Harare, it was throughout the country and as far as typhoid is concerned, I’ll be the first to admit that the principal drivers of the typhoid outbreak were inadequate supply of potable water, sewerage overflows due to overload, high water table caused by the ongoing wet season and of course the erratic refuse collection which has resulted in a number of illegal dumps.
But touch wood, out of all the suspected cases of typhoid that have gone through our clinics and the two hospitals, we talk as at the 16th of February, we had about 2816 and out of those suspected cases of 2816, there were only 16, one six of confirmed cases and the suspected typhoid deaths are only two; one 15 year old girl who had been treated at the Beatrice Road Infectious Diseases Hospital and was discharged and if the parents had religiously followed the treatment regime that had been given and not decided to, that they belong to some religious sect that did not permit medication that poor 15 year old kid should still be alive.
And the only other death was an eight month old baby and then there was another lady, an elderly lady who came in on the verge of death and subsequently died but we established that her death was attributable to other causes that were not remotely connected to typhoid.
Guma: It seems to me pretty much some of these problems are also stemming from the water problems the city is facing. Hearing you giving answers to what the problem is – what’s the long term solution because it seems to be a chicken and egg dilemma?
What starts first – money from the residents paying for a service they’re not getting? Do you need a bail out from government? Does government need to change its priorities and get something going because year after year the same problem remains and nothing is changing?
Masunda: Well we’ve never seen a typhoid outbreak on the scale that we’ve seen now but I’m pleased to say that we’ve contained the situation. The average number of suspected typhoid cases has come down from about 72 to 30 a day and we need to keep a beady eye on all these things.
But we also need to get the cooperation of the stakeholders themselves. People must refrain from patronizing all these joints like Kwa Mereki, Kwa Zindoga, Pennywise Liquor Centre, Ku Huku in Hillside, Braeside because those are the epi-centres of water-borne diseases.
And due to chronic unemployment we’ve seen a proliferation of food vending in the city and surrounding areas and I’m very concerned about what may happen now that the Tobacco Auction Floors have opened because some of our new tobacco growers will come in from outside Harare and they’re going to camp either at Boka Tobacco Auction Floors or the other two new ones that have been established, until they get paid.
Guma: But is the solution closing places like Kwa Mereki and others or providing proper facilities for such informal kind of businesses to thrive?
Masunda: That’s a good point. It’s a combination of both. For instance, one of my very, very strong beliefs when I came into office was to work very closely with those enterprising ladies at Kwa Mereki and convert that into some serious cottage industry.
But when I went there and spoke to Mai George and others and I said ladies how do you dispose of the litter that is generated here, they took me to the back of where they were operating – a pit where they were mixing up all sorts of garbage, biodegradable stuff and bottles and cans and plastics.
And courtesy of Delta Beverages we provided them with compartmentalized wire mesh cages, so that they put the bio degradable stuff in the pit and the cans on their own, the plastic bottles and their own and the glass on their own so that the reclamation companies can cart that away.
And I’m pleased with the efforts that have been made following the closure of Mereki in the last week and first week of, last week of January and first week of February, they’ve taken it upon themselves to address some of the issues that ought to have been addressed a long time ago.
Guma: And just quickly on that, several questions on that, maybe final question just for this week – when is Kwa Mereki opening?
Masunda: As soon as I get the nod from the City Health Department that all their concerns from the health perspective have been addressed.
Guma: Well Zimbabwe that’s the Mayor of Harare, Mr Muchadeyi Masunda, because of time constraints we’ll probably have to split it again in two and have him again next week so that I can finish all the questions that you the listeners sent in. Many thanks to Mayor Masunda for joining us on Part One.
Masunda: Thank you and I look forward to taking part in the next segment.