Taps Run Dry for Half of Zimbabwe’s Capital City, Affecting Millions

Downtown Harare, Zimbabwe's capital city.

Downtown Harare, Zimbabwe's capital city. Pixabay

More than 2 million people in and around Zimbabwe’s capital city, Harare, are currently without access to municipal drinking water, the result of a years-long drought and high water pollution levels, Climate Home News reported. With their taps running dry, residents are instead relying on merchants, open wells, streams, and boreholes for water.

According to Harare’s city authority, just 50 percent of the 4.5 million people in the capital and its four satellite towns currently have access to municipal water. Two of the four dams that supply water to the city have run dry, leading to a reliance on heavily polluted water from the two remaining dams. Harare’s mayor Herbert Gomba told Climate Home News that the city was producing only 450 million liters of water a day, less than half of its daily demand. Community organizers believe the actual supply is closer to 100 million liters.

Zimbabwe is one of several major cities around the world facing water shortages, in large part due to climate change and an increase in extreme drought in recent years. Municipal water lines in the Indian city of Chennai, population 8 million, have recently run dry. In Zimbabwe, meteorologists say rains are not expected in Harare until October at the earliest. Earlier this month, officials told residents that the city will only be able to provide municipal water once a week.

The limited water still available for city use is highly contaminated by raw sewage, garbage, and agricultural, mining, and industrial waste, officials said, requiring expensive water treatment before it can be sent into city pipes.

In 2018, the Southern Africa Development Community issued a drought warning for Zimbabwe. Climate scientist Brad Garanganga said that Zimbabwe’s under-funded meteorological department did not recommend appropriate action ahead of time and policymakers have been even slower to respond.

Another major cause of the current crisis is the city’s aging infrastructure, Climate Home News reported. Harare’s water system was designed to serve 350,000 people — one-twelfth the capital’s current population. The last system upgrade was in 1994, and some sections of infrastructure have been in use four times as long as their expected economic life. The Zimbabwean government took out a $144 million loan from the China Export-Import Bank in 2011 to upgrade its water infrastructure, but the project has been plagued by corruption and the country’s long-running economic crisis.

—Noah Goodman