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Danger ‘floating’ above homes torn between water harvesting and lives

By Veronica Gwaze

Some houses across the country have literally been turned into booby traps, as illegally installed bulk water storage tanks meant to alleviate acute water shortages in urban centres are claiming lives and injuring many.

Children walk past the water tank which fell and killed nine-year-old Trinity Saungweme, together with Colleen Kamonere (18 months) and left the former’s brother Thulani (two years) with a broken leg in Chitungwiza on Wednesday. — Picture: Believe Nyakudjara
Children walk past the water tank which fell and killed nine-year-old Trinity Saungweme, together with Colleen Kamonere (18 months) and left the former’s brother Thulani (two years) with a broken leg in Chitungwiza. — Picture: Believe Nyakudjara

Most residents have not followed due procedure in the installation process.

The construction work has neither been inspected nor approved by relevant authorities.

Resultantly, some families have lost their beloved ones due to accidents.

Late last year, tragedy struck two Chitungwiza families when a neighbour’s galvanised steel stand gave in to the weight of a loaded 5 000 litre water-tank and collapsed on three children.

Two of them died while the third one was hospitalised after suffering a fractured leg.

Just as the nation was still grappling to come to terms with this unfortunate accident, disaster once again struck in Chinhoyi, early this month.

A couple lost a five-year-old child in an incident which was almost a replica of the Chitungwiza mishap.

Again, a neighbour’s galvanised steel stand gave in to the weight of a loaded 5 000 litre water-tank and fell on the two-roomed cottage that they rented.

The tragedy led to the couple and their nine-year-old child sustaining serious injuries.

In Bulawayo, another water-tank collapsed in the process of installation.

Fortunately, there were no casualties.

While the tragic incidences may seem isolated, it is generally feared that if the situation is not addressed, this might be a time bomb that triggers disastrous outcomes.

Ignorance and blame

“It’s a surprise to hear that we should go through council. I did not know that. I just hired a local guy who is into welding to create this galvanised stand for my 3 000 litre tank in 2018. The stand has since then not shown any sign of fault,” said Kuwadzana-based Mai Panashe.

In Chitungwiza’s Unit L, Mr Nathan is enjoying brisk business through selling water to local residents.

The water cost $30 for 20 litres.

“It has been years without tap water in Chitungwiza so I had to drill a borehole and install a 5 000 litre tank to counter the challenges. Initially, the tank was supposed to serve me and my family, but as my neighbours continued to frequently ask for water, I then resorted to selling. The borehole needs periodic repairs,” he said.

However, Mr. Nathan confirmed that he never sort clearance from council or any relevant authority before and even after mounting his tank.

Illegal stands have been identified as the reason why most new households now opt for boreholes and water storage reservoirs. Ordinarily, council does not connect an illegal structure to its water systems.

Similarly, municipal by-laws outlaw such fittings, especially in high density suburbs whose yards are 300 square metres and below.

According to council by-laws, the required minimum space for building a water reservoir should be at least six metres away from the house and nine metres from the septic tank or sewer drainage.

Automatically, this means a huge chunk of houses in the high-density suburbs do not qualify to have water reservoirs.

“We are aware of the procedures that one has to go through under normal circumstances. But, due to the prevailing water crisis, some residents are now taking the short route for remedy which is wrong,” reckons Mrs Alice Kuvheya, Chitungwiza Residents Trust Director.

“ . . . it also goes back to council’s corrupt issuing of illegal stands. For instance, in Chitungwiza we now have a lot of extensions most of which do not have running water because they were never part of the plan.”

Illegal

Harare City Council spokesperson Mr Michael Chideme said there is no authorisation or law from council that allows the installation of suspended water storage tanks.

“Those who want to install water reservoirs must approach council, in our case Harare Water. However, council only promotes water harvesting from rooftops as a way to augment the current water demand and shortages.

“We do not have a law that allows installation of those plastic water-tanks that are now common in most households. Also, borehole-supported reservoirs have an adverse effect on underground water abstraction from rivers and wetlands,” explained Mr Chideme.

“The pilot project for proper installation of silver portable water harvesting tanks was done by Unicef. They should be placed on the ground or slightly above so that they are not a threat to peoples’ lives.”

It is envisaged that the ongoing interventions by the Government will help bring sanity and avert possible disasters in the future.

“If anyone wants to erect a tank or embark in construction work of any sort, they must apply to council and get permission before they start the project as stipulated by municipal by-laws,” urged Deputy Minister of Local Government and Public Works Marian Chombo.

The Engineers Forum has since been directed, by the Government, to engage the Standards Association of Zimbabwe (SAZ) and relevant stakeholders in coming up with safety standards to be used in monitoring and enforcing tank fittings.

“The wide use of water-tanks is a relatively new phenomenon hence there are no set standards relating to issues like the materials that should be used, the height and sizes involved etcetera,” adds Deputy Minister Chombo.

Civil Protection Unit (CPU) director Mr Nathan Nkomo notes the installation of water tanks is a highly technical process that requires due care.

“Capacity and strength should be highly considered and from observation, residents are going for cheap material that eventually fails to withstand the weight of the loaded tank. Water shortages should not be justification for these criminal activities that continue to claim innocent lives. Stiffer sentences need to be put in place for those that are caught offside,” said Mr Nkomo.

Investigations

Upper Manyame Sub-Catchment Council has set up surveillance teams to identify illegal borehole drillings and water-tank installation.

According to Engineer Wensley Muchineri, it is illegal to drill a borehole or install a water-tank at a household that is 300 square metres and or less in size.

“There is need for collaborative efforts on this issue. Residents are going behind our backs, continuing with the illegal drilling of boreholes and installing water reservoirs. As water experts, we look at issues to do with availability and distribution which they are ignoring. Our team is on the ground to identify culprits and those caught offside will be duly punished,” warned Engineer Muchineri.

Harare Water director, Engineer Mabhena Moyo explained part of the installation procedures of approved silver water tanks.

“Upon application, one needs to provide their site plan for the council to check whether or not they have the required minimum space to allow for installation,” he said.

Community Water Alliance founder Hardlife Mudzingwa notes the need for a holistic approach.

“The situation in high-density suburbs is that one in six houses has a well or borehole which poses a huge threat to the environment. Authorities must drill community boreholes and install more public water points to ease the burden on residents as a solution to this challenge,” he said.

Community Water Alliance is a grassroots-based civic organisation that does advocacy for proper water governance.

“The law also needs to be strict on engineers and those who are into the welding and tank installation business; they need to be guided accordingly. Also, we need to have water running from the tape because borehole drilling is a temporary measure for water delivery,” adds Mudzingwa.

“For this to happen, there is need to increase budget allocation for water treatment and ensure that each local authority has its own water treatment plant and water reservoir.” The Sunday Mail

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