Cape Town's main water supply from the Theewaterskloof dam outside Grabouw, Cape Town, South Africa, Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018. A harsh drought may force South Africa's showcase city of Cape Town to turn off most of its taps, as the day that the city runs out of water, ominously known as "Day Zero", moves ever closer for the nearly 4 million residents. (AP Photo)
HARARE -  The April 16 Day Zero is beckoning for Cape Town but the resort city’s peers in Harare say Capetonian businesses, travellers and residents need not look no further for ways to manage the situation than just across the Limpopo, to a struggling Zimbabwe whose capital city, Harare, has had water problems for a long time.

Drought conditions have meant declining water reservoir levels in Cape Town, a popular city for tourists from across the world. And as conditions worsen, the city of Cape Town has started to encourage limits on water use to 50 litres per person per day and it seems residents are abiding by this but it may not be the desired long term solution.

In Harare, residents joke that the second most important commodity to carry around when travelling or visiting is a bottle of water, after a mobile phone charger.

This is because piped water is oftentimes poorly treated or passes through contaminated pipes, leading to outbreaks of diseases such as typhoid, according to engineers in the country. Most of the piped water in Harare is now only used for general purposes such as laundry, no longer for drinking.

“The Zimbabwe water crisis is due to inadequate or inefficient treatment and conveyance systems whilst the Cape Town issue is due to drought. Secondly, the citizens in Zimbabwe have learnt to solve their own challenges through drilling boreholes, shallow wells and buying water,” said  engineering expert, Tapiwa Marandu.

File image: IOL.
But some of these solutions to the prolonged Zimbabwe water crisis have started to cave in, with borehole water also getting contaminated and Health Minister, Parirenyatwa saying most boreholes in Harare were contaminated.

Zimbabwe’s middle class and elite had resorted to buying purified water from suppliers but as the costs rise, in line with rising inflation in the country, the cost is now beyond the reach of many. Pressure is now being put on the local authority to fix the situation.

The city fathers in Harare say they have scaled down water supply because of a crippling shortage of foreign currency to procure treatment chemicals and this weekend the main waterworks at Morton Jaffrey are shut down to pave way for further maintenance.

Harare mayor, Ben Manyenyeni said in response to queries from ratepayers on Twitter, :“We reduced water supply volumes in order to secure quality until our chemical supplies are adequate. Hoping to be recovering over next 2 weeks or so."

Travis Hough, consultant expert at Frost and Sullivan Africa said on Thursday that solutions being explored by the City of Cape Town such as drilling into aquifers for water supplies could prove costly. Desalination was also problematic in that it requires a long lead time to set up a plant although this could be cheaper.

“The City of Cape Town could spend their time and money drilling into an aquifer only for it to produce less water than expected. On the flip side, desalination can produce a fixed amount with a high level of certainty.

 “The problem is the lead time to set up a plant is quite large in that desalination plants are designed according to the water they will be processing so tests need to be carried out before a plant can be built,” argued Houghs.

The preferred long term solution will be “a combination of desalination, tapping of aquifers, addressing our non-revenue water issues, as well as making greater use of waste water” resources.

“If we can classify water quality according to its use, we will no longer do things like flush our toilets with potable water. We need to move towards a world where water is used as many times as possible, for various uses according to its quality. We need to educate people that drinking processed waste water is okay”.