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Zimbabwe, 27 March 2015: Public-private partnership contributes to safe water to thousands in Chiredzi

© Richard Nyamanhindi/UNICEF 2015
An innovative Public-Private partnership has ensured that Chiredzi continues to supply safe water to its residents. The supply of safe and potable water has reduced the incidences of diarrhoeal diseases.

By Richard Nyamanhindi

Residents of Tshovani High Density suburb in Chiredzi in Masvingo Province of Zimbabwe do not take access to safe water for granted.

In recent years, the economic downturn and the ageing town water and sewer infrastructure caused significant challenges to Chiredzi Town Council’s capacity to provide clean water to its more than 30,000 residents. As a result, the Council had to stop providing new household water connections and was also forced to implement a water rationing policy, limiting water supply to only twice a week in the town.

However, UNICEF with support from the Australian Government under the Emergency Rehabilitation and Risk Reduction (ER&RR) Programme in 2009 and the ongoing Small Towns WASH Programme spanning 2013-16 has undertaken the rehabilitation of the water and sewerage systems in the town. The rehabilitation has drastically increased water production with more than three quarters of the households in the town now receiving uninterrupted water supply.

Increasing water supply

“Although I desperately wanted to have a water tap in my house because of the inconvenience of having to travel more than three kilometres to the nearest borehole, I was told two years ago that there was not enough water in our town to reach our house,” said Spiwe Madyira, a mother of five who lives at the southern edge of Chiredzi town.

But in August of 2014, following the rehabilitation of Chiredzi pump station, the installation of raw water pumps, clarifier tanks and the construction of storage tanks allowed Mrs. Madyira’s family to have a water connection.

“I had saved up some money, so I requested to have the connection as soon as the water problem was solved,” she said, standing by the tap installed in her yard.

With support from the Australian Government, UNICEF partnered with Chiredzi Town Council and supported the rehabilitation of the water supply and sewerage systems, a project which has benefited the more than 30,000 residents in the town.

Mr. Wesley Kauma, the Chiredzi Town Engineer, said that following the rehabilitation of the water system, the production of water has increased by 100 percent.

“Existing water infrastructure had been so run down that water supplies to the residents was limited to only three hours a day especially in the late hours of the evening. The sewerage network was consistently blocked and damaged which resulted in reduced sewage overflow,” said Kauma.

“Water supply is now 24 hours in most parts of the town as a result of the increased pumping capacity from 5 mega litres (ML) per day to 10 ML/day and the replacement of aged sewer collector lines that has enabled an efficient movement of waste to the collector ponds,” added Kauma. 

Making every drop count

Water loss, and its operational and financial consequences, is a major concern for urban water utilities in Zimbabwe. Losses, both physical and commercial, are due to leakages and the failure to bill customers for the full amount of water they use. A combination of these two factors usually puts the financial viability of water utilities at risk.

In Chiredzi, prior to the support by the Australian Government, council relied on an in-house archaic billing system, whose data was not transferable to other computer systems. Receipts were done manually, something that opened the system to corruption and many inefficiencies. In addition, the council did not have a centralised data base system as billing was confined to specific areas, leading to long queues that discouraged residents from paying regularly for services provided.

The success of the program has allowed Chiredzi Town Council to connect all receipting points to a central server with one database. This has allowed for better transparency and residents now have more confidence in the accuracy of their bills; furthermore,  the audit trail is now possible on any transactions done by all users in the system and decision making on the part of the council has improved based upon the various report formats the system can generate.

Public-Private Partnership

Water supply in Chiredzi is managed through an innovative Public-Private Partnership approach between Chiredzi Town Council and Hippo Valley Estate (Tongatt Hullets). Through the partnership, the different and complementary roles of local government and private sector are being strengthened.

Tongatt Hullets based on its operations in its sugar cane irrigation estate has significant skilled manpower and organizational set up for efficient running of water treatment works. This relative expertise has been harnessed by the Chiredzi Town Council in an arrangement that allows Tongatt Hullets to operate the water treatment plant on behalf of Council and the cost of the water treatment operations are offset through the bill accrued by Tongatt Hullets on its water usage.

All other aspects of water and sewerage systems are done by the Chiredzi Town Council including maintenance of all water infrastructure in the town, responsibility for water billing and all revenue collections related to water supply and waste water conveyance and treatment. The town council also manages the entire sanitation infrastructure.

Building on the success of the rehabilitation works done with funding from Australian Government, reliability of the water supply to the town has been further strengthened as Tongatt Hullets recently constructed a 3.1 kilometres dedicated power transmission line to Chiredzi waterworks to improve reliability of power supply. Tongatt Hullets has also constructed 700m of part of the Chigarapasi pumping mains and connected the main to the rehabilitated pump house and to the reservoirs.

Spiwe Madyira, says her family’s life has changed due to the partnership that exists between Chiredzi Town Council and Tongatt Hullets which has enabled the installation of the new water connection to her house.

“Before this, we used to wake-up very early and walk for more than two kilometres to the borehole. At the borehole we used to queue for many hours before we could get water,” she said.

“Sometimes, especially during the dry season, the borehole dried up because of increased demand and we had to resort to unprotected water sources. Now we have water in our house every day, all the time. It is clean. I feel safe because I can wash my hands and clean my utensils… we spend much less time looking for water than before.”

Reduced disease risk

Although no studies have been conducted in Chiredzi on linkages between the improved water and sanitation access and incidence of diarrheal diseases, there is undisputed global evidence of the linkages between water and sanitation and some Chiredzi Town residents who were recently connected to the water piped systems said their children are falling sick less frequently. Water-borne illnesses are among the top five reasons for children’s health visits, according to the Ministry of Health of Child Care. 

Although the Public-Private Partnership between Chiredzi Town Council and Tongatt Hullets is working well and contributing to safe water provision, critical gaps remain in terms of more formalized arrangement of the partnership and defining a road map and relevant timelines for phased capacity building and ownership of the town council with a view to eventually take over the running of the Treatment Works in the long term.

Other operational challenges faced by the Council include how to extend the water supply network to areas in the town that are not currently receiving water and the replacement of 80 percent of household metres that are non-functional resulting in high non-revenue water and low cost recovery by the Council. 




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