Zimbabwe water shortages: 'I don't remember taking a shower'

By Shingai Nyoka
BBC Africa, Harare

  • Published
A man turning on the tap in Zimbabwe.
Image caption,
Evidence Kanyombo cannot recall what taking a shower feels like

Evidence Kanyombo is 18 years old and unemployed. He spends his days searching for water for his mother and siblings in Zimbabwe's capital, Harare, and that has almost become a full time job. He turns on the shower tap but not a single drop comes out.

"It's not working, the pipes haven't had water in them for a while and have rusted. I don't ever remember taking a shower," he says.

Bathing out of a bucket has become a way of life, not just for him, but for most Harare residents.

Zimbabwe is suffering from one of its worst droughts in decades and earlier this year, a state of emergency was declared.

This has made the situation worse for hundreds of thousands of Harare residents who have not had a regular water supply for many years.

"It is possible to use only two litres of water to bath depending on how much you can limit yourself," Mr Kanyombo says with a slight laugh.

"So eight 20-litre buckets of water can last for three days depending on how carefully you use it."

Image caption,
Virgina Nyika and her household try to keep a bucket of water for every occasion

Several plastic buckets are found in almost every home in Harare - from high-end bathrooms in affluent homes to kitchens in the townships.

Virginia Nyika, a mother who shares a house with her extended family, is frustrated.

"It's reality, but a painful one," she says.

"We are used to life without running water. My husband, my three children and I live in two rooms at the back of the house. We have 15 plastic buckets and one 200-litre water container.

"My sister and her family has six buckets, 11 containers and two 200-litre drums. The man who rents a room in the same house has about 12 buckets. My children don't know what it's like to take a shower," she explains.

Media caption,

A generation of Zimbabweans has grown up never having taken a shower or flushing a toilet

Harare experiences regular water shortages because the public supplier, the Zimbabwe National Water Authority, lacks funds to treat water and has also been unable to maintain its aging water pipes.

This has compelled some residents to dig shallow wells and boreholes to cope with the dire situation.

But some of these wells have dried up due to the drought.

Tense scramble for water

The low-income suburb of Mabvuku is one of Harare's driest areas.

Long lines of buckets and water containers can often be seen at community boreholes, where they have been left as position holders.

There have been stories of physical fights breaking out in the tense scramble for water.

According to one witness, police officers have had to step in to restore order on a number of occasions.

Image caption,
Lines of buckets are a common sight in Harare as residents struggle to stock up on water
Image caption,
Some are cashing in on the situation by making water deliveries to residents

But where there is adversity there is also opportunity.

Anna Malikezi is who of those who spends long hours manually pumping water into buckets.

"I sell water to people who aren't able to wait in the queue. I can earn about $7 (£5.6) a day. I am able to take care of my family with that money," Ms Malikezi says.

But the daunting task for Ms Malikezi is that she has to get to the borehole at 01:00 to secure her place in the queue.

Water has become one of Harare's most prized commodities.

In the affluent suburbs, water tankers roam the streets delivering water to homes and businesses.

A delivery of 5,000 litres of water costs $50 (£40) with people often spending $100 a month for the service.

The same volume of water from the Zimbabwe National Water Authority would cost just 10% as much - if it was actually available.

City authorities say they are trying to be fair by limiting rationing in poorer communities.

Wealthy suburbs can go without water for up to a week.

Image caption,
The Harava dam which supplies water to Harare has almost dried up

Harare City spokesman Michael Chideme points out that the city gets most of its water from dams, which have been badly affected by the drought.

The Harava Dam, about 20km (12.4 miles) south of Harare, has seen better days.

Mr Chideme noted that the dam, which is almost dried up, was one of two that used to supply 90m cubic litres of water a day to the Prince Edward treatment plant.

Now the treatment plant only gets 15m.

The drought has also led to huge crop failures and animal deaths. About a quarter of the population needs food aid.

Though the current rainy season has started off patchily, weather experts are predicting heavy rains, which the city authorities hope will mean the dams will fill up once more.

Until then, Mr Kanyombo and many others in Harare will have to continue their quest for the precious resource.