18 June 2009
Harare — HARARE residents have been at loggerheads with the city fathers over poor service delivery in the capital. Issues raised include poor responses to burst sewer and water pipes, potholes, garbage collection, health service and dysfunctional traffic lights. The Financial Gazette's News Editor Brian Mangwende (BM) sought explanations from the council's public relations manager, Leslie Gwindi (LG) on these contentious issues.
BM: Why these issues? How did we get to where we are today? Where did the wheels come off?
LG: It is important to underpin our responses to the historical background and it is also essential to note that the City of Harare is not an isolated entity and that it operates in the global Zimbabwe economic environment.
Over the years, the city has not been able to re-invest in plant and equipment to enable it to execute its mandate and that is because of the erosion, at an increasing rate, of the Zimbabwe dollar. And because of that we found it literally impossible to source foreign currency, which is critical for the purchase of all our inputs. The city was also unable to access loans and grants as given by institutions such as the World Bank and related institutions.
BM: What about such areas as waste management and water?
LG: The city's last investment in refuse collection vehicles was nine years ago and it is a general rule that these vehicles be replaced after a maximum of three years of service.
Therefore of the nine trucks that were bought last, we have been operating with less than that number in the last five years due to breakdowns and during that period there has been an accumulation of refuse thus we are faced with illegal dumps.
Our (refuse) collection in the suburbs over the years has dropped as a result of lack of commercial vehicles. The city needs not less than 60 collection vehicles. With respect to water, there is a very serious gap between supply and demand. Demand has totally outstripped supply because the city has not developed alternative water sources whereas the population for the City of Harare has continued to grow. Our dependence on this singular water source (Lake Chivero) has led to the deterioration in water quality which has meant that the city needs a sizeable chemical regime to be able to treat water coming from Lake Chivero. The other important fact is that our water purification plant -- Morton Jaffray -- requires revamping and modernisation, maybe moving from that water purification system entirely. Finally, the water piping underground is so old that we lose not less than 40 percent of the purified water underground during delivery. We are also faced with major difficulties in delivering to some high ground suburbs to the extent that some go for long periods without water. It must be noted that currently we will always have a deficit in water supply due to the above reasons and also the fact that we deliver water to Chitungwiza, Ruwa and Norton.
BM: What is the impact on the non-availability of treated water and doesn't this pose a real danger to a new cholera outbreak?
LG: It is obvious that lack of clean, disease-free water causes very serious public health challenges. We have, as a city, emerged from one such challenge lately, but we need to keep the current pressure on managing it, thanks to a very large extent to donors and the government. The onset of the rains presents another new challenge to this epidemic.
BM: What strategies do you have in place to prevent a similar outbreak?
LG: We need to improve clean water supply and I am glad the city has embarked on a major refurbishment of aquifers and filters at Morton Jaffray. We also have education campaigns about the management and avoidance of this water-borne disease and making sure that we always provide clean water.
BM: How long is this going to take to complete this exercise?
LG: It's an ongoing process.
BM: Drivers are having a torrid time negotiating potholes on the city's roads and the results at times bear tragic consequences. What is council doing to address this and other problems such as malfunctioning traffic lights?
LG: There has been concerted effort to engage partners in the area of pothole filling, road reconstruction and traffic lights signal provision and I am glad to say this has realised fruitful results. We will be gladly providing street lights shortly and pothole filling is on going.
BM: And the health delivery system in council facilities?
LG: The area of health service has been a beneficiary of donor funding and while our structures have been stretched to the limit, they have matched some of the challenges that we face. The city has had successful programmes in the areas of TB treatment, HIV and Aids counseling and management, antenatal, dental as well as general health awareness among other programmes. A lot more can be done in this area and we will continue to share a very healthy relationship with our benefactors.
BM: How do you see service delivery in general in Harare?
LG: The outlook is bright, but is dependent on quite a number of issues; adherence to modern day urban planning procedures and enforcement of the statutory requirements that make such activities as vending, unsanctioned structures, operating without licenses as well as non payment of tariffs illegal. The city will exercise its fiduciary responsibility of enforcement and should be left to do so without interference.
BM: Council was actively involved in the clean-up exercise dubbed Operation Murambatsvi-na in 2005. What was your role and what was the real reason behind the clean-up exercise?
LG: It is the local authority's mandate to enforce and ensure that by-laws are adhered to and it was against that background that the clean-up exercise was carried out and I am glad to say that the exercise led to improved hygienic living standards in Harare and its suburbs and a better delivery then of such things as water and public health conditions and we are all agreed that there was a general improvement soon after the campaign.
BM: A lot of structures destroyed during the clean-up exercise are sprouting back and council seems indifferent to the latest development. What do you have up your sleeve?
LG: The city is soon going to embark on another clean-up exercise. We will issue warnings prior to requesting the illegal occupiers or businesses to desist from those illegal activities