Limited investments in water and sanitation infrastructure across Zimbabwe’s urban centers in recent times have largely contributed to poor service provision, which has left citizens scrambling for the precious liquid. Bulawayo, the country’s second-largest city, was not spared. Frequent droughts in nearby regions worsened the water woes.
“The situation worsened in 2018, where we would go for three weeks without water. It was a difficult period as we had to endure long queues at a nearby borehole just get to enough water for the day,” explained Nothando Maphosa, a 35-year-old mother of two from the Bulawayo suburb, Nketa7. “It was so bad that we had to come up with a time table for flushing the toilet, which is unhygienic,” she said.
Bulawayo experienced severe drought from 2018 to 2020, which led to the introduction of a six-day water shedding program. Before then, the city was already grappling with water pumps installed more than 40 years ago, and were plagued with costly breakdowns, requiring extensive maintenance. The water lifting capacity was low, and used high energy with little output. In addition, many manufacturers no longer had such dated replacement parts available.
To improve water, sewer treatment and pumping capacity, the African Development Bank funded the $33 million Bulawayo Water and Sewerage Services Improvement Project (BWSSIP) to replace obsolete pumps at Fernhill and Ncema pump stations. The new installations include three pumps at each station, two working in tandem as duty pumps and one standby pump. Funding also supported a supervisory control and data acquisition system, which will control and monitor the new equipment locally and remotely, further supporting the city’s vision of being a leading smart urban center by 2024 through the use of various technologies.
Since the water distribution began through the new pumps in February 2021, Bulawayo has gradually reduced disruptions from six to two days per week, with a gradual plan towards a citywide uninterrupted water supply. The increased pumping capacity has further assisted the replenishing of the raw water reservoir, which had dried up in 2020 due to drought.
The newly installed water pumps have increased the treatment capacity for the City of Bulawayo from 92 megaliters to 145 megaliters a day – exceeding the city’s daily water demand of 135 megaliters a day. The increased raw water capacity from the pumps, coupled with a refurbished water treatment system, is assisting the city to meet the daily water consumption demand of Bulawayo’s 770,000 residents in all its 165 suburbs.
“Since sometime in February 2021, we have been receiving regular water supplies. We now go for as long as three weeks without water rationing and, even when it happens, it does not take one full day [for water to come back],” Maphosa said.
Project implementation began in 2016. It also included strengthening institutional capacity, enhancing service delivery and efficiency, and improving environmental sanitation. The project, administered by the Government of Zimbabwe via the Bulawayo City Council, is expected to be completed in December 2021.