They say water is life but for residents in Hopely, south of Harare it is a different story as they are made to wake up around 4 am braving the early morning darkness in search of the precious commodity from unimagined sources.
With wells drying up from successive droughts in the past two years and an ever-growing population, residents are finding their way into the nearby Granville cemetery to dig up wells.
So dire is the situation that many including children have to invade the sacred land of the dead every night to fetch drinking water.
For the residents there is nothing unusual as it has become a daily routine despite cultural beliefs attached to visiting graveyards during the night.
During the day enterprising youths man the wells and demand a fee for one to be allowed to fetch water.
For people like Sekai Chitoko (46) the fee is beyond her reach leaving her with little choice but to fetch water either early morning or late evening.
“Life here is so tough, filling a 25 litre container costs ZW$ 15,” says Chitoko.
Asked how she feels drinking from the cemetary, she said,” Its safe, there is no need to boil it. This is what we have to do under the circumstance,”
“I am a widow with three kids and I am unemployed. Our wells have dried up at home and I cannot pay those who control the wells during the day so I try to come early with my kids so that we get water before they are here,’
“The water that we fetch here we use it for all of our domestic activities as well as drinking. We have never had an incident of getting sick after drinking this water” said Chitoko.
Her experience mirrors what many communities in Harare and in other parts of the country where access to portable water has become a nightmare are encountering on a daily basis.
It has become common sight to see desperate youths and women trek to dangerous pits and wetlands in search of water.
In yet to be regularized settlements like Hopely, Caledonia and Stoneridge among other areas, where Harare City Council has not set up water and sewer pipes, the situation is even dire.
The task of gathering enough clean water to drink, cook, and wash is consuming many people’s lives, with women and children bearing the brunt of the shortage. (Picture by Munashe Chokodza/263Chat)
In these places, water has been commodified by unemployed youths taking advantage of the desperate situation.
“We come here as early as 4 am and on a good day we are made to leave this place around 7:30 am. For the unlucky ones they will have to negotiate with those who control the wells to have access to water. The situation is unbearable, women and girls are now exposed to emotional and sexual abuse from some thugs,” said 56 year old Virginia Nyoni another resident.
Access to clean water has become precarious with households stockpiling filled containers only restocking them when the need arises.
With the deteriorating economic situation, independent water suppliers are delivering the commodity for a fee beyond the reach of many poverty stricken families.
“Having realised the water crisis in the suburb, I decided to bring water at a cheaper price. I am charging ZW$10 for a 20 litre bucket and ZW$15 for a 25 litre bucket. I am doing this until the water situation improves during the rainy season when wells will be filled,” said Josiah Manyere a water supplier
Despite borehole drilling by some Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) the situation remains dire as they are overwhelmed by the massive population.
Over the last two decades, the country has experienced a gradual decline in potable water due to climate change effects.
According to UNICEF from 2000 to 2017 the percentage of people with access to safe water and basic water services decreased from 72% to 64% whilst basic sanitation decreased from 46% to 36%.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that each person needs 20 t0 50 litres of water a day for drinking and hygiene.
Zimbabwe experienced one of the worst health disasters in 2008 when a cholera outbreak killed over 4000 people and fears are that scenes reminiscent of 2008 era may occur if the water situation remains unchanged.
Section 77 (a) of the Constitution provides that “every person has the right to safe, clean and potable water.
Sustainable Development Goal 6 urges duty bearers to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. In the current situation this goal remains a pipe dream unless there is more commitment and political will on the part of local and central government to improve the situation.
Many societies across the globe, a graveyard is a place considered sacred and rarely visited but for desperate residents of Hopely the dead are providing a fountain of hope the living.