Zimbabwe’s metropolitan areas are growing at an exponential pace as rural-urban migration accelerates and demographic growth continues. Suburbs are popping up everywhere. However, expansion of the reticulation network is not keeping pace with urban growth. The daily struggle to find water is becoming almost a complete side culture in itself. Photojournalist Tafadzwa Ufumeli has shot images of some Harareans’ daily water struggles. 

Children gather around a tank to buy water for household chores. Photo: Tafadzwa Ufumeli/RLS Southern Africa

Although abundant rainfall has snapped a multi-year drought in Southern Africa, Zimbabwe is still in the throes of a water crisis. The country’s water woes seem to be getting worse due to demographic growth and human failings colliding with the adverse effects of climate change. 

In many communities, people spend hours every day trying to get water for drinking, cooking and cleaning. For some, this daily quest lasts up to three or four hours. People use any sort of big container to fetch water: JoJo tanks, gallons, large tins, buckets, etc. Ox-drawn carts are also a handy transport to have. This is the favourite mode of transport for a new group of traders: water vendors.

A water vendor loads his cart in Harare. Photo: Tafadzwa Ufumeli/RLS Southern Africa

While people fetch water, they catch up on politics, culture and sports. Children play in the bushes while the wait their turn. Going to the borehole or tap is always a great opportunity to catch up with friends. 

Services provided by the national government and municipalities are very erratic. Many households have given up on the government altogether and now get water exclusively from boreholes, streams and rivers. Owners of boreholes also monetise access to their infrastructure. For a couple of dollars, one can do laundry and then take home some water for drinking, cooking and household chores. 

A boy pushes a wheelbarrow on his way home from a communal tap. Photo: Tafadzwa Ufumely/RLS Southern Africa

Water scholar Dr. Gwinyai Taruvinga blames a number of things for Zimbabwe’s worsening water crisis. The first one is underinvestment. He argues that the steel pipes that supply water in most of the big cities were laid over fifty years ago. Now they are rusty, unreliable, crumbling. Salmonella and shigella infections are common. For him, the conditions that led to the 2008 cholera outbreak are back and cases of cholera are already spiking.

Children stop by a bridge on their way home from school. Photo: Tafadzwa Ufumeli/RLS Southern Africa

Dr. Taruvinga also believes that politics has a lot to do with the water crisis in the country. Squabbles between ZANU-PF and MDC over the last two decades have created a service delivery crisis. Fighting between political parties cascade down to municipal level and issues are either resolved or neglected depending on how close a community is to the government in power. 

The government has drilled boreholes for some communities. However, the drilling is not keeping pace with demand. Dr. Taruvinga argues that what should be happening right now is the development of a well-funded national reticulation strategy that mirrors the scale of demographic and industrial growth in the country. 

A woman uses a public tap in a camp set up for people displaced by Cyclone Idai. Photo: Tafadzwa Ufumeli/RLS Southern Africa

Harare for example has gained about ten massive new suburbs. However, the municipalities have little resources to connect them to the central reticulation infrastructure. Instead, homeowners are either funding their own connections or drilling private boreholes.    

 An even bigger problem is brewing in the countryside. It did not rain much in Zimbabwe this year and so the harvests are going to be bad. The maize crop is expected to decline by as much as 40%. This is a disaster because the average Zimbabwean eats Sadza at least once a day (Sadza is a porridge made of ground maize, a staple dish in Zimbabwe. It can be served with grilled meat, gravy, vegetable stew, etc.). 

The national government has ordered farmers to sell their extra maize harvests to Grain Marketing Board (GMB) and not to side markets in order to replenish emergency stocks.