Zimbabwe’s government is crafting a national water policy in response to the fast deteriorating quality of surface and groundwater sources in the country, Water Resources Development and Management Minister Sipepa Nkomo has disclosed.
The quality of water in Zimbabwe has been a critical issue in the face of the cholera outbreak that claimed more than 4 000 people countrywide in 2008 and the recent typhoid outbreak in Harare. The policy will address a wide range of issues from urban water supply and sewerage, rural water supply and sanitation. It will also deal with the development and management of water resources for such uses as irrigation, hydropower generation, industrial and mining development, livestock, poultry and the environment.
“The quality of raw water in rivers, lakes, wetlands and groundwater as well as in the many dams and boreholes is fast deteriorating mainly because of a breakdown in waste water treatment facilities,” said Minister Nkomo.
He said the deteriorating quality has an effect on the water that is available for domestic use, agriculture, industry, mining and other activities such as fishing and tourism. Minister Nkomo said poor quality of water has wide ranging impact on people’s health, environment, the livelihood and welfare of all Zimbabweans and the national economy.
“The cholera outbreak was just one symptom of a much larger problem,” said Minister Nkomo.
“The causes of water pollution are varied and range from discharge of untreated or partially treated sewerage, industrial waste water, untreated mining waste water, and agro-chemicals from farming activities, toxic chemicals used in artisanal mining, wastes from poultry farms, abattoirs, and ranches.
“Urban run-off and landfills are other major causes of water pollution especially for rivers and groundwater close to urban centres and near solid waste landfills. The run-off carries with it exhaust fumes and particulates from all the vehicular emissions, solid wastes, garbage and human wastes from urban centres,” he said.
He said the mercury used in artisanal gold mining was a highly toxic compound that can be transported as vapour from the gold panning process or through residue carried in waterways. According to research when mercury mixes with organic material, it transforms into methyl mercury, a lethal and dangerous neurotoxin that can permanently ruin natural habitats and can have a severe negative impact on the health of gold panners, their families and nearby communities and on the development of the brain in young children. Minister Nkomo said the policy will address land use decisions on the construction of buildings, roads, urban centres, industries, mines and farms.
He said water sources such as lakes, rivers, springs, watersheds, wetlands and groundwater near such developments need to be protected.
“The protection of water sources is critical and needs to be granted a high level of protection in land use planning and decision making. Unplanned and uncontrolled land use can impact both water availability and water quality,” he said.