Orphaned by the State – 4000 Deaths

In 2008, Zimbabwe experienced a major cholera outbreak in its history which killed more than 4000 people and infecting more than 90000 (WHO, 2009). Most people affected by the disease were from high density areas like Mbare, the oldest location of Harare, the capital city of Zimbabwe. This outbreak was mainly attributed to lack of adequate water and sanitation services.

Pre-independence orphanage

During the colonial era, land and other social services were distributed inequitably on racial basis. The country was divided into commercial land mostly for the European settlers and marginal land for natives. This was reinforced by the water allocation policy which discriminated access to water on racial grounds which was inherited and continued until 1998. Under this water act, only commercial white farmers with water rights were allowed to vote. Urban areas such as Harare were divided into European and African areas. The colonialists did not believe in provision of descent accommodation and WASH services for the natives working for them hence they provided them with single rooms in high rise buildings in Mbare which had shared communal toilets and showers. In addition, the colonial masters constructed semi-detached houses with shared communal WASH facilities for families. On the contrary, the colonial masters were provided with water and sanitation services fixed inside their houses.


Post-independence orphanage

After the independence in 1980, the new water act and the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (ZINWA) Act were adopted in an effort to re-address the imbalances created by the colonial rule.


The government made significant efforts towards provision of WASH services concentrating in the rural areas leading to 84% of Zimbabwean population having access to safe drinking water by 1988 (WHO/UNICEF JMP, 1988). The focus on rural areas was due to the fact that the ruling Party ZANU PF support base was mainly in these areas.

WASHILITICS – The politics of WASH

Provision of WASH services in Harare has been politicised since independence, with the government always putting strategies aimed at controlling the distribution of basic services. The situation was exacerbated by the formation of strong opposition (Movement for Democratic Change) winning all parliamentary and council seats in Harare during the 2002 elections. The ZANU PF government intensified interference and refused to fund municipal budgets for cities where it had been defeated including Harare. These retaliatory cuts led to cessation of water purification and redirection of raw human sewage in the main reservoirs.  This was supported by the sentiments made by the then Minister of local government, Mr Saviour Kasukuwere .

Major policies and strategies used by government to gain control over water provision

Year/Period Major events
1980-1995 Harare was run by ruling party-controlled municipality which enjoyed a good relationship with the central government
1999-2002 Harare was run by a government-appointed commission (Chanakira Commission)
2002 Opposition party wins control of municipality but its operations were hindered by the central government
2002-2005 Popularly elected mayor and council are dismissed by government. Harare was run by a government-appointed commission (Makwavarara Commission)
2005-2009 Water supply and sanitation are transferred to the national parastatal, Zimbabwe National Water Authority (ZINWA) which was controlled by government
2009 Water supply is returned to the City of Harare after failure to improve service delivery
2009-2013 Harare City was run by elected Council, however the government interfered with the operation as witnessed by securing of USD144 million loan from the Chinese government without the approval of the municipality
2013 Opposition party wins control of the council Government approves the National Water Policy which suggests overhaul of water supply management

In order to salvage the water crisis, Zimbabwe National Water Authority (ZINWA) assumed the role of supplying water and sanitation services following a government directive in 2005 against the will of the residents. It received a huge grant from the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe to rehabilitate the WASH infrastructure for Harare.  However, the money wasn’t accounted for. Despite the interventions, the water unavailability became worse that even the elite and politicians from the ruling party were affected. They started blaming ZINWA for failing to provide safe water and sanitation services and in 2009, the mandate of providing of water and sanitation services was given back to Harare Municipality.  Government still continued with its interference in Harare municipality operations such that it even borrowed US$144 million from the Chinese without the knowledge of the municipality and there has been a number of corruption cases around the fund. Towards the 2013 harmonised elections, the government instructed all local authorities and municipalities to cancel all water bills owed by residents to them. This was a campaign strategy to win control of urban areas, however   access to safe water and sanitation services among the poor living in the high density areas of Harare such as Mbare deteriorated.

From sun shine city to run down city

After independence the population of Harare was estimated to be 650,000 (CSO, 1982). The population figure ballooned to 2,123,132 (Zimstat, 2012) because of rural to urban migration triggered by poverty in rural areas, drought, politics and the desire for better social services. Despite rapid population increases WASH services were not upgraded to match the growing demand. Burst sewerage lines, uncollected garbage, broken street lights, leaking pipeline became a common feature in Harare which was once regarded as the cleanest City in sub-Saharan Africa (M Musemwa, 2008). “Harare has become one of the dirtiest cities in the world” Oppah Muchinguri Kashiri, Minister of Environment, Water and Climate).  Subsequently, women and children had to rely on unsafe water sources e.g. Mukuvisi River where they were abused as people had to fight for water.

6bfec986-b0d1-488d-8634-13a2aa9fc5dfIn 2005, there was a politically motivated clean-up campaign which was known as Murambatsvina whose objective was to reduce strain on urban infrastructure. This campaign led to demolition of illegal houses in the city leading more people to move into high rise buildings in Mbare overburdening the existing WASH infrastructure.


The hard truth of Cholera and Typhoid


Continued political interference and poor water and sanitation service delivery led to the devastating 2008 cholera outbreak which infected 98,585 people and killed more than 4000 people. Since then, there has been sporadic cases of cholera in the country. National and International NGOs responded by drilling boreholes in the affected areas and provided chemicals for water treatment to the municipality. Despite the good efforts by the NGOs, it was benefiting the rich who had running tap water whilst the poor had to continue relying on unsafe ground water which has been linked to the 2017 Typhoid outbreak which has become endemic. Ministry of Health’s Epi Bulletin Week 52 of 2017 reported 2,352 cases of typhoid . Mbare has been the epicenter of these sporadic outbreaks. Dilapidated WASH infrastructure and overcrowded living conditions have been pointed out as contributing factors towards the outbreaks by the Minister of Health and Child Care, Dr David Parirenyatwa.

Any hope for the state orphans?

Despite all the existing water and sanitation challenges in Mbare, the proposed water and sanitation investment plan for Harare supported by the World Bank, and the Multi Donor Trust Fund does not include plans to improve the situation in the marginalised high density areas such as Mbare. The plans were designed at city level with no involvement of the marginalised people leading to the exclusion of those without the voice. The proposed investment plan is up to 2030 and will benefit the rich leaving out the poor.

Mr. Forward Mupepe, Engineer from Ministry of Water, Environment and Climate, Zimbabwe discussing strategic investment plan for greater Harare until 2030.

About the Author: Farhad Safi , Jayshree Rajbhandary. Pride Kafwembe, Stellah Ngere, Ziggy kugedera- currently studying MSc Sanitation in IHE Delft Institute for Water Education in partnership with UNESCO.


Emmanuel Manzungu MM, Simon Mudiya, Vupenyu Dzingirai, Special Musoni (2016) bulk water supply in zimbabwe privatisation of wash. Water Alternatives

Enock C.Makwara BT (2012) Water Woes in Zimbabwe’s Urban Areas in the

Middist Of Plenty: 2000 -Present. European Journal of Sustainable Development 151 – 180

Hove M, Ngwerume ET, Muchemwa C (2013) The Urban Crisis in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Threat to Human Security and Sustainable Development. Stability: International Journal of Security and Development 2 DOI 10.5334/sta.ap

Ingeniure G (2014) Greater harare WASH strategic plan 1

Musemwa M (2008) Politics of Water in post colonial Zimbabwe, 1980 – 2007



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s