The New Humanitarian Annual Report 2021

  1. Home
  2. Africa
  3. Southern Africa
  4. Zimbabwe

Drought tightens grip on already parched Matabeleland

[Zimbabwe] UNICEF providing displaced with water and sanitation services.
Taps continue to run dry in Zimbabwe's major cities (IRIN)

Persistent water shortages in Zimbabwe's second city, Bulawayo, have forced local authorities to deploy bowsers in several high-density townships to ease the situation.

Water rationing has also intensified, with each household being allowed only 60 litres a day. An average bath takes 50 to 150 litres.

Parts of Bulawayo have been without water for the past two months, mainly because two of its major dams have dried up, leaving the city with the option of two other sources that authorities fear are also fast running low.

While the municipality blames poor rainfall for the shortages, it has also chided the central government for failing to take decisive action to solve the city's recurrent water woes.

Matabeleland, a vast region in southern Zimbabwe where Bulawayo is located, has been dogged by chronic drought that has affected both water supplies and food security. The city's executive mayor, Japhet Ndabeni-Ncube, described the situation as "dire and most unfortunate".

"The problem is far beyond our control, and what we are waiting for is the rains. The real issue is that our major sources, Upper Ncema and Umzingwane dams, have gone dry because of the ongoing drought," Ndabeni-Ncube told IRIN.

"We have, however, done all we can as a municipality to alleviate the situation, but still the water is not adequate," he said.

Last week the situation deteriorated further as bowsers failed to provide water because the municipal fleet had no fuel, forcing many township dwellers to negotiate with borehole owners, who hiked prices by charging Zim $20,000 (around US 10 cents) for a bucket of water.

Residents complained because they were forced to use the nearby bushes as toilets.

"Our toilet is stinking and we are also dirty because there is no water. We can no longer afford to bath; it's very unhygienic. What makes the situation more unbearable is that it is summer time and the sun is very hot. We just pray that there is no outbreak of diseases," said resident Anastasia Dube.

Last week the local authorities finished drilling 22 boreholes in the city's outlying areas, which provide an additional 300 cubic metres a day. Bulawayo's population of slightly over a million people usually consumes 140,000 cubic metres a day but at the moment the city is only getting 90,000 cubic metres.

An engineer with the Ministry of Water Resources, who wished not to be named, said Matabeleland's water problems could only be addressed by implementing the Matabeleland-Zambezi Water Project, an ambitious pipeline scheme for obtaining water from the Zambezi River to supply towns in the perennially dry region.

The project was first mooted by the former colonial government over a century ago but was quickly shelved due to high costs. President Robert Mugabe's government also had a go at implementing the scheme but has been hamstrung by lack of funds.

It would take a whopping Zim $500 billion - way beyond the coffers of the government, which is battling high inflation and a critical shortage of foreign exchange.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

Share this article
Join the discussion

Right now, we’re working with contributors on the ground in Ukraine and in neighbouring countries to tell the stories of people enduring and responding to a rapidly evolving humanitarian crisis.

We’re documenting the threats to humanitarian response in the country and providing a platform for those bearing the brunt of the invasion. Our goal is to bring you the truth at a time when disinformation is rampant. 

But while much of the world’s focus may be on Ukraine, we are continuing our reporting on myriad other humanitarian disasters – from Haiti to the Sahel to Afghanistan to Myanmar. We’ve been covering humanitarian crises for more than 25 years, and our journalism has always been free, accessible for all, and – most importantly – balanced. 

You can support our journalism from just $5 a month, and every contribution will go towards our mission. 

Support The New Humanitarian today.

Become a member of The New Humanitarian

Support our journalism and become more involved in our community. Help us deliver informative, accessible, independent journalism that you can trust and provides accountability to the millions of people affected by crises worldwide.