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Power Shortages Hit Water Supply

Bulawayo residents forced to endure unsanitary conditions due to continued electricity rationing.
By Yamikani Mwando
Long-running power cuts caused by Zimbabwe’s economic turmoil are now affecting the water supply in many cities.



Since the beginning of September, residents of the country’s second largest city, Bulawayo, have gone for days at a time without water. In the past week, they have been forced to endure yet another acute shortage.



This is not because supply dams have dried up, say council officials. Rather it is caused by increased power rationing by the country’s power utility, the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority, ZESA.



It introduced what it calls “load shedding” – when the power supply is cut off in certain areas – after failing to secure sufficient foreign currency to import electricity from neighbouring countries. Zimbabwe imports some 35 per cent of its electricity, mostly from South Africa.



Power outages have affected the pumping of water from the main supply sources for both domestic and industrial use.



Cuts to the electricity supply have long been a problem across the country, affecting everyday life and causing industry and commerce to streamline operations. Companies claim losses of millions of US dollars in potential earnings.



Some companies in Bulawayo’s industrial areas have reduced the working hours of their employees, citing the power cuts and raising fears of redundancy among workers already struggling to survive because of poor wages.



The power crisis has had a particular impact on critical sectors like hospitals, where staff report that even some life-support machines cannot be used.

Hospital morgues have now become virtual no-go areas, as rotting corpses pile up on shelves.



“What can we do but watch helplessly?” asked a nurse at Mpilo, the city’s largest government hospital.



Bulawayo’s residents hope that utilities will improve following the power-sharing agreement signed by opposition Movement for Democratic Change leader and former trade unionist Morgan Tsvangirai and President Robert Mugabe on September 15. The MDC is expected to take control of service delivery.



In the meantime, for many in this city of more than one million residents, the crisis has meant a return to a lifestyle similar to that in rural areas which have no running water or electricity.



Their discontent is aggravated by the fact that both the city council and the local power company introduced massive rate hikes at the beginning of the month.



“It is not fair that we are expected to pay huge bills for a service we are not getting,” complained Jennifer Alubi, a resident whose house is located a few metres from a burst sewer which spews out raw sewage.



“I have not had running water for the past day and have to endure this smell from the burst sewer and no one has come to attend to this.”



Resident Mike Tshuma said that as a result of the latest power and water cuts, hospitals will be virtually helpless in the event of an outbreak of disease.



“Woe betide those who falls ill,” said an angry Tshuma, echoing the sentiments of many here who are hoping that the power-sharing agreement signing will ease their daily lot.



Bulawayo’s latest water crisis comes against the backdrop of a cholera outbreak in the capital, Harare, this summer which has claimed several lives. The disease reportedly broke out after the government fired an elected council and replaced it with a ZANU-PF-appointed commission, which failed to carry out essential services.



Thabiso Dlodlo, an official with a residents’ association, told IWPR that the latest crisis indicates the extent of the breakdown of essential services in the country.



“If a country does not have enough electricity to power just about anything, it says to me all sectors of our life are in danger,” said Dlodlo.



“But it also shows that the city council has no resources, because in normal circumstances, a city must have reserve power sources in case of a situation like the one we are seeing now – otherwise residents are exposed to all sorts of dangers, including death.”



Yamikani Mwando is the pseudonym of an IWPR journalist in Zimbabwe.



Bulawayo residents forced to endure unsanitary conditions due to continued electricity rationing.



By Yamikani Mwando in Bulawayo (ZCR No. 164, 23-Sep-08)



Long-running power cuts caused by Zimbabwe’s economic turmoil are now affecting the water supply in many cities.



Since the beginning of September, residents of the country’s second largest city, Bulawayo, have gone for days at a time without water. In the past week, they have been forced to endure yet another acute shortage.



This is not because supply dams have dried up, say council officials. Rather it is caused by increased power rationing by the country’s power utility, the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority, ZESA.



It introduced what it calls “load shedding” – when the power supply is cut off in certain areas – after failing to secure sufficient foreign currency to import electricity from neighbouring countries. Zimbabwe imports some 35 per cent of its electricity, mostly from South Africa.



Power outages have affected the pumping of water from the main supply sources for both domestic and industrial use.



Cuts to the electricity supply have long been a problem across the country, affecting everyday life and causing industry and commerce to streamline operations. Companies claim losses of millions of US dollars in potential earnings.



Some companies in Bulawayo’s industrial areas have reduced the working hours of their employees, citing the power cuts and raising fears of redundancy among workers already struggling to survive because of poor wages.



The power crisis has had a particular impact on critical sectors like hospitals, where staff report that even some life-support machines cannot be used.

Hospital morgues have now become virtual no-go areas, as rotting corpses pile up on shelves.



“What can we do but watch helplessly?” asked a nurse at Mpilo, the city’s largest government hospital.



Bulawayo’s residents hope that utilities will improve following the power-sharing agreement signed by opposition Movement for Democratic Change leader and former trade unionist Morgan Tsvangirai and President Robert Mugabe on September 15. The MDC is expected to take control of service delivery.



In the meantime, for many in this city of more than one million residents, the crisis has meant a return to a lifestyle similar to that in rural areas which have no running water or electricity.



Their discontent is aggravated by the fact that both the city council and the local power company introduced massive rate hikes at the beginning of the month.



“It is not fair that we are expected to pay huge bills for a service we are not getting,” complained Jennifer Alubi, a resident whose house is located a few metres from a burst sewer which spews out raw sewage.



“I have not had running water for the past day and have to endure this smell from the burst sewer and no one has come to attend to this.”



Resident Mike Tshuma said that as a result of the latest power and water cuts, hospitals will be virtually helpless in the event of an outbreak of disease.



“Woe betide those who falls ill,” said an angry Tshuma, echoing the sentiments of many here who are hoping that the power-sharing agreement signing will ease their daily lot.



Bulawayo’s latest water crisis comes against the backdrop of a cholera outbreak in the capital, Harare, this summer which has claimed several lives. The disease reportedly broke out after the government fired an elected council and replaced it with a ZANU-PF-appointed commission, which failed to carry out essential services.



Thabiso Dlodlo, an official with a residents’ association, told IWPR that the latest crisis indicates the extent of the breakdown of essential services in the country.



“If a country does not have enough electricity to power just about anything, it says to me all sectors of our life are in danger,” said Dlodlo.



“But it also shows that the city council has no resources, because in normal circumstances, a city must have reserve power sources in case of a situation like the one we are seeing now – otherwise residents are exposed to all sorts of dangers, including death.”



Yamikani Mwando is the pseudonym of an IWPR journalist in Zimbabwe.

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