World, Africa

Severe water shortages plague Swaziland

Hawane dam cannot provide water to capital Mbabane anymore

03.09.2016
Severe water shortages plague Swaziland File photo

By Phathizwe Zulu

MBABANE, Swaziland

A serious water shortage has gripped the city of Mbabane, Swaziland’s administrative capital as the El Nino phenomenon has severely hit the region.

On Monday, Swaziland Water Services Corporation (SWSC) public affairs manager Nomahlubi Matiwane announced that the Hawane dam -- the only source of water for the city -- will not be used to supply Mbabane anymore.

“Beginning this Monday, we are no longer using the Hawane dam because its water has been depleted. Water levels have been depleted to 5 percent of the 2,750 million-liter capacity dam,” said Matiwane.

Two weeks ago, the city’s more than 100,000 residents were subjected to 96 days of strict water rationing, inducing a sense of panic in the kingdom’s 1.2 million strong population.

SWSC managing director Peter Bhembe on Thursday told reporters the dam will totally dry out in the middle of September should rain not fall in the next few weeks.

“However, we have tried to increase the supply from the Mbabane River which we think will slow down demand so that we decrease the volume of water extracted from the Hawane dam,” said Bhembe.

“I don’t think on Sept. 30 we will still have any water left at Hawane dam if there is no rainfall. You should remember that it is not entirely true that there is 5 percent of water left at Hawane dam, it is far less than that,” he revealed.

Water rationing in the capital city was instituted in the beginning of December 2015.

The central business district, government offices and industrial areas were left without water overnight while residents had to endure 18 hours without water a week.

The water rationing gradually increased to 48 hours.

In the course of that rationing, Bhembe predicted that the water situation in Mbabane was to enter a critical stage where there would be no water available in the taps.

He said residents with plenty of space in their homes would have to dig pit latrine toilets and those living in suburbs would have to use portable toilets.

“If you are not used to queuing [standing in line] in order to get access to a toilet, then you have to start getting used to that idea,” he warned.

“This may sound far-fetched for now but it is going to happen. People from the Ministry of Health, whom we are working with, are worried about the outbreak of diseases that may be a result.

“Another consequence is that if your house catches fire, there might be no fire truck coming to your house to put out that fire because there would be no water. A lot will be seen as the drama unfolds,” he said.

Komati Basin Water Authority (KOBWA) water expert, Mfundo Mathunjwa, said he has observed that both government and the SWSC lacked vision to supply water to the city, especially in dry conditions.

KOBWA is a bi-national entity formed by Swaziland and South Africa to promote transboundary water-integrated management.

“This is a result of lack of planning by both sides. The Maguga dam is less than 45 kilometers [28 miles] away from the Hawane dam. With proper planning a pipe linking the two dams would have been possible,” said Mathunjwa.

He said, considering the bilateral water agreements existing between South Africa and Swaziland, a plan could have been designed to supply the city with reliable water.

The Nation Magazine deputy editor, Nimrod Mabuza, said the water woes in Mbabane were a result of downright poor management, not just El Nino.

Mabuza accused Bhembe of sleeping on the job by ignoring rules of mitigating population growth in the city.

“As the longest serving manging director of SWSC, Bhembe, in the 20 years leading the corporation, he never found it necessary to construct a dam for sustainable water supply to the city.

However, Swaziland is not the only southern African country on the brink of experiencing a devastating drought.

Last Thursday, South Africa’s leading daily The Star warned that the Vaal Dam water levels has fallen drastically and if rains did not fall in the next few weeks, residents and key economic regions, like Johannesburg and Pretoria could face critical water shortages and “stricter restrictions”.

According to the Star, the dam supplies around 12 million South Africans and the water level was at 33.8 percent of full capacity.

“This time last year, it was around 74 % full,” the daily said.

In the same breadth, the new chairman of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), King Mswati III acknowledged that drought has come at a great cost killing cattle and caused water rationing.

Director of food, agriculture and natural resources Margaret Nyirenda acknowledged the Southern Africa region was experiencing the worst drought 35 years. Overall, the region had known maize and cereal deficits of about 5 million tons each in a approximately a year’s time.

She said people at risk of food security had increased by 28 percent from 31 to 39.6 million between the 2015/16 and 2016/17 marketing years.

She added the region needed about $2.5 billion to support the humanitarian needs of the affected population of the countries.

Responding to the appeal, the U.S. pledged $300 million, the U.K. $95.5 million and the EU $67 million towards humanitarian assistance.

Swaziland National Meteorological Services expert, Dumisane Sithole said there was no rainfall expected in the country in the next two weeks.

The general forecast by the weather department is that summer rains might start falling in October.

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