ONE morning last month Harare resident, Gwen Shoshore, woke up to a dry tap at her home in Waterfalls suburb.
She was scheduled to do her laundry on that day.
To do this she had to make several trips to and from a nearby church to ask for borehole water, which was only granted to her on condition she paid a small “bribe” to the security guards manning the premises.
Going for days with dry taps and finding one’s self with no choice but to “pay” for water from those that have access to alternative sources is not unique to Shoshore alone.
This is how most of Zimbabwe’s capital’s residents celebrated the United Nations World Water Day recently — without running water and having to scavenge for the precious liquid anywhere they could find it, regardless of its state of cleanliness.
The Harare local authority, in a city of close to three million people, had disconnected water without warning and they had to go through the World Water Day in a way they would think about it most.
The situation is not limited to Harare alone — it is a sad story shared commonly by cities, towns and villages around the southern African region which is grappling with a severe shortage of water.
This shortage is mainly owing to the effects of climate change which have seen rainfall patterns drastically shift over the years and the rains themselves becoming more erratic.
The region has lagged behind in terms of water security despite the fact that signs that the world was getting drier first came to the fore many decades ago and other countries started preparing for the eventuality.
World leaders converged in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 for the first United Nations Earth Summit where they drew strategies to, among other things; contain the deteriorating water situation across the globe.
The major resolution was to invest in water infrastructure to allow for more water harvesting.
These resolutions were revised in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2002, again with emphasis being on water infrastructure.
Since Rio, more than two billion people of a world population —now totaling 7,3 billion — have gained access to better water and sanitation.
But according to a joint report by UN Water and UNICEF released on March 22 (World Water Day) an estimated one billion people are still to access clean water, the majority of whom are in southern Africa.
This dovetails with the 2014 update report of the World Health Organisation (WHO)/UNICEF) Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation which states that two fifths of people without access to improved drinking water sources live in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Critics warn that with climate forecasts pointing to increased water shortages, things could get even worse, particularly for southern Africa which evidently has not braced itself enough for the water crisis caused by climate change.
The latest report from the UN. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), also released on March 22, predicts a rise in global temperature of between 0,3 and 4,8 degrees Celsius by as early as 2030.
In light of such scary insights, development experts have become increasingly concerned about water security in recent years.
More frequent floods and droughts triggered by climate change, pollution of rivers and lakes, urbanisation, over-extraction of ground water and expanding populations mean that southern Africa will face serious water shortages in the near future if it does not take immediate corrective measures.
More worryingly, out of the entire 15 member Southern African Development Community (SADC) bloc, only three countries — South Africa, Botswana and Angola — are on track to meet the millennium development goal on water falling under the environmental sustainability cluster set for review later this year.
The rest are way behind target.
Southern Africa has been hit hard by global warming, which will bring more freak weather such as droughts, leading to serious water shortages, affecting agricultural output and food security.
However, the region, which shares 15 of the world’s 276 transboundary river basins like Limpopo, Zambezi, Okavango, Orange-Sengu, Congo and others, can put heads together to salvage the situation.
The World Bank, which has worked in many poor countries to improve water provision, says investments in water in poor nations give big benefits.
“Investing to provide drinking water for 750 million people in poor nations who lack clean supplies makes clear economic sense with bigger than expected health benefits,” it says in latest estimates shown on March 21.
“Investments in better water could mean 170,000 fewer deaths a year while basic sanitation would cut 80,000 deaths, mostly from infectious diarrhoea,” says the World Bank.
Since the inaugural earth summit, the majority of SADC countries have remained stuck with archaic infrastructure that can no longer meet the rising demand, especially in urban areas now experiencing a population boom.
For example, Harare, has maintained infrastructure established in the 1950s to cater for only about 300 000 people, with the population now having grown tenfold.
The result has been that the city has dismally failed to provide water for its three million residents, a situation which has seen authorities at loggerheads with their militant resident representative bodies who argue that they are being denied their constitutional right of access to clean potable water.
Residents have also resorted to drilling own boreholes that have also resulted in the dwindling of ground water sources, as they compete for the few aquifers available.
The entire city and its three dormitory towns rely on just one dam, Lake Chivero, which itself has since been condemned by researches as a ‘giant sewer’ for its catastrophic pollution levels.
Further painting a gloomy picture ahead, UN Water forecasts that the planet faces a 40 percent shortfall in water supplies in 15 years due to urbanisation, population growth and increasing demand for water for food production, energy and industry.
“Competition for water between water-thirsty sectors means better management is essential to ensure everybody gets the water they need,” said the World Water Development report released in March.
All SADC water bodies are underutilised and water is allowed to freely from into the seas without being properly exploited.
But with the rapidly growing climate change, it is not long before access to safe water and adequate sanitation becomes a major source of regional conflict.