Tue, Jan 03, 2017 - Page 10 News List

Zimbabwe water crisis gives rise to backdoor sellers


A man carries buckets of water, fetched from a tank installed at a church in Luveve on the outskirts of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe on Nov. 24 last year.

Photo: AFP

From jobless young people hired to dig wells to illegal sellers supplying water in buckets and large tanks, some enterprising Zimbabweans are cashing in on the country’s desperate water shortages.

Zimbabwe’s long-standing water supply problems have been worsened by a severe drought ravaging the southern African region.

Taps in large parts of the country run dry for several days in a week, including in Harare, as part of government imposed restrictions.

In suburbs around Bulawayo, the country’s second city, scenes of people carrying 20-liter buckets of water on their heads or pushing wheelbarrows laden with water drums from mobile tankers are a daily occurrence.

Although authorities prohibit the private selling of water, the ban has done little to discourage the business.

Poor and desperate residents fork out between US$0.50 and US$1 for a 20-liter bucket of water sold by illegal water dealers. According to World Bank figures, average income per person in Zimbabwe in 2015 was less than US$2.50 per day.

“As Zimbabweans we have gone through a lot of suffering that has made us very creative as we look for solutions,” water seller Mandla Dungeni said. “It’s just a matter of capitalizing on the situation to make extra cash. I find ways of delivering the water either at night or during the day but in a clever way.”

Dungeni says he collects the water from the city center and industrial areas in Bulawayo, where cuts are not regularly imposed.

With Zimbabwe’s economy in the doldrums, the government has struggled over the last decade to maintain the crumbling water infrastructure.

The water supply crisis in 2008 was marked by a deadly cholera outbreak which killed at least 4,000 people.

The disaster, which is still fresh in the minds of many Zimbabweans, took place at the height of the country’s economic and political crisis as the government failed to service aging infrastructure, with sewage contaminating water reservoirs.

Spending extra money to buy water has presented an additional burden for many households who rely on meager income to feed themselves.

Many residents have resorted to keeping stockpiles of water in small barrels whenever the taps are running.

As the dry conditions persist, more illegal water sellers in Zimbabwe look set to cash in on the crisis.

Another seller, Bernard Phiri, said he sells as much as 1,000 liters of water on a good day, charging US$1 for a 20-liter bucket of treated water, while the same size bucket of untreated water goes for US$0.50.

“We just saw a gap in the market and residents appreciate our service,” Phiri said.

Phiri, who does not own a car, said he had to hire a pick-up truck to deliver water to his customers across the city.

“My profit is marginal, but at least we get something at the end of the day, since most of us are unemployed,” he said.

Local authorities said that anyone caught selling water without a license would be arrested.

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