A Zimbabwean cabinet minister said Thursday that the government needs at least 1 billion U.S. dollars to completely overhaul the dilapidated water treatment and delivery systems of Harare to allow its more than 1.5 million residents to have reliable clean tap water.
Local Government Minister Ignatius Chombo told Xinhua at an equipment handover ceremony in Harare that the government considers providing safe drinking water its priority.
"It is the most important priority," Chombo said. "If we don't improve Harare's water system in the next two to three years, water will be more expensive than petrol or Coca-Cola."
Water contamination was behind Harare's deadliest public health crisis in modern history. In 2008, more than 4,000 people died after drinking un-sanitized water in a cholera outbreak. As taps ran dry in most homes, residents of Harare started digging boreholes to fetch the underground water for consumption.
In 2012, a Chinese engineering firm -- China Machinery Engineering Corporation (CMEC) -- was awarded with the 144 million U.S. dollars project to rehabilitate Morton Jaffray Water Works, Harare's only water treatment plant for the past half century. The rehabilitation is expected to raise Harare's water accessing rate from 40 percent to near 80 percent.
Harare City Council currently produces 500 megaliters of water per day, only one-third of the daily demand of 1,400 megaliters due to low utilization of treatment facilities and leaking underground pipes.
"We will try our best," said Cao Yang, CMEC's project manager. "The majority of core equipment will arrive at Harare in mid-2015, and the project shall be completed by the end of 2015 ahead of schedule."
Chombo said the government is not unhappy with the progress and wants the firm to do faster. "Of course, we are quite anxious that the project should be completed as soon as possible because the residents of Harare very much need clean water in sufficient quantities," the minister added.
The minister said for the thorough overhaul it might need over 1 billion dollars investment and the government prefers to award the projects to Chinese firms on concession loan base with maturity period ranging between 20 to 30 years.
"We need new source of water, new water treatment plants in order to meet the needs of new urban dwellers who come in," Chombo said. "It would be neater if this whole project is done by one company. But I am quite confident that during our trip to China at the end of the month, we might be able to meet with Chinese companies which could be interested in this project. "
The Harare City Council has been managing the huge water deficit over the years through water rationing.
Meanwhile, UNICEF country representative Reza Hossaini noted the water challenges in Harare but hailed government efforts to improve the water supply situation.
He said although boreholes can alleviate the water challenges, it is not a long-term solution.
"On the long run, you will have no choice but to have city water with its centralized water treating facilities." Hossaini said.