ZIMBABWE: Water train to thirsty Bulawayo?

Saturday, June 23, 2007

With its main water supply dams expected to run dry by September, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second city, is planning to transport water by train from the Zambezi River, about 400km northwest of the city.

"We are actively pursuing the idea of a water train to bring the precious liquid, because our current supplies will be exhausted by October. Under the plan, the train would draw water from the Zambezi River before it is purified and distributed to residents in Bulawayo," Moffat Ndlovu, the city's town clerk told IRIN.

"During the just ended rain season, our [five] dams received a total inflow of just 11 million cu.m, as opposed to the 73 million cu.m of rainwater that we received during the previous season," said Bulawayo's executive mayor, Japhet Ndabeni-Ncube.

Bulawayo's unreliable water supply has forced many industries to relocate from the dry Matabeleland North Province, but the city has managed to supply water to its 1.5 million people with the help of its dams, one of which, the Lower Ncema, has already run dry and been decommissioned; another, the Umzingwane, is expected to be decommissioned in June.

Two more dams, the Upper Ncema and the Inyankuni, will run out of water in August, according to the city council, leaving the municipality dependent on the remaining water supply dam, Insiza, which is expected run dry in October, before the onset of the rains.

In 1992, the city's water supplies ran dry during the country's worst ever drought but a Norwegian organisation came to the rescue, sinking 77 boreholes in high water-yielding aquifers, but only 20 of them are still functioning.

A government parastatal has taken over maintenance of the boreholes, but it has said it did not have the funds to repair them. Most public infrastructure in Zimbabwe is in a state of disrepair as the country battles the world's highest annual inflation rate of more than 1,700 percent.

Fanuel Masikati, spokesman for National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ), told IRIN that the municipality had not yet officially approached them to transport water from the Zambezi River.

"We are a bulk carrier which can deliver any commodities to any part of the country, although that would require some resource allocation for such a programme to be properly implemented. We have never carried water in bulk, and that would mean sourcing tanks for such a programme."

The council has imposed stringent water rationing measures, but falling pressure in some reservoirs has left parts of the city with no access to water and residents have had to rely on municipal bowsers.

Mayor Ndabeni-Ncube told IRIN they were also courting donors to sink boreholes around the city to augment water supplies. "The European Union, the Japanese embassy and some nongovernmental organisations [are] coming in to assist us with the provision of safe drinking water through the sinking and motorisation of boreholes."

Successive governments since 1912 have postponed construction of a water pipeline from the Zambezi River to alleviate perennial water shortages in Bulawayo. Known as the Matabeleland Zambezi Water Project, the pipeline is envisaged to create a green belt through Matabeleland North Province.

According to a council resolution, the plight of the residents should be publicised, so as to attract sympathisers to assist the city. However, it also warns that "due care should be exercised so that the situation is not over-dramatised to the extent of scaring away investors."


Source: IRIN