A HANDFUL of council workers offload water purification chemicals from a parked truck at the Morton Jaffray Waterworks on Thursda, but as they were doing their work, something caught the eye of alert Senators on a tour of the facility.
A Senator asks why they were working without the necessary protection and in response, one of the workers, in hushed tone said: “We don’t have them (face masks) and protective clothing. There is none in the storeroom.”
The Senator shook his head and walked away.
This is the state of operations at Harare’s Morton Jaffray Waterworks where workers had been subjected to dangerous working conditions while handling potentially hazardous chemicals.
Senator Chief Chikwaka was later to ask council officials present why the workers handling all kinds of chemicals were allowed to work without safety equipment.
After moments of attempting to respond to the question from a number of council officials present, Morton Jaffray Waterworks superintendent Edias Nyanguwo said they had placed orders but due to budgetary constraints, they have received none.
“We ordered safety equipment and clothing wear. We need respirators and cartridges for the workers but we have a challenge due to budgetary issues,” he said.
The situation at the 66-year-old Morton Jaffray plant has become dire and the city is faced with challenges that seem to not go away anytime soon.
“There are chemicals we store here like activated carbon which removes the smell from the water,” Nyanguwo said.
The side effects of ingesting the chemical include constipation and black stools.
More serious, it can slow or block the intestinal tract and cause dehydration.
The chemical is imported from China according to Nyanguwo, who added that other chemicals used include aluminium sulfate which is meant for water purification and is used as a mordant in dyeing and printing textiles.
This chemical is supplied by Chemplex and Nyanguwo conceded that the plant was overwhelmed.
“They have challenges sometimes and the chemicals they give us at times are not enough,” he said.
Though this chemical does not cause cancer, according to research, it is a skin and eye irritant and all people who work with it should wear gloves and eye protection.
If ingested in some way, the chemical is “mildly hazardous”.
Half of the US$144 million loan facility from the China Eximbank facility has been used at the plant but the officials said it was too little to refurbish the plant.
“We have used US$72 million but what was put in place is too little. You can’t strip this plant with US$144 million, it is too little,” Engineer Mabhena Moyo said.
Residents have asked tough questions to council on the US$144 million facility, but it turned out that only half of that has been availed and the loan, contrary to common belief, was not meant for Morton Jaffray.
“Most people believe the money went to Morton Jaffray but that is not the case. It was meant for about 12 schedules, schedule A for Morton Jaffray with an allocation of US$55 million. Crowborough had US$2,5 million, Firle had US$9,7 million, clear water pump stations like Warren Control, Letombo and Alex Park had an allocation of US$16,4 million.
Borrowdale Brooke sewage pump station had US$3 million,” production manager Engineer Edmore Chawasemerwa said.
“Workshop tools and equipment US$994 000, laboratory equipment, US$1 million, ICT equipment had US$4 million, there was also construction equipment where we received a number of equipment like excavators, crane and other equipment to attend to bursts and that one had US$5,6 million.”
“We also had a facility for vehicles and plant equipment like tractors, project vehicles like the one I am using now, we had US$8 million for that but we used only US$3 million,” he said.
Senator Chief Chikwaka said there was need to address the water crisis in Harare.
“We have a lot of things we observed that need to be addressed but we have also seen that they have fixed other things that will allow people to have potable water. We were told sewage is finding its way here because there is no control and we hope it will be fixed so that we do not have challenges like cholera, typhoid and so on,” he said.
Senator Sydney Sekeramai said water was a human right and for any society to develop there must be adequate supply of clean water.
“From a human rights point of view, clean water is a human right. We have toured the dam site and we have been shown various stations that water come from and that is Chivero and Darwendale, they are challenges. The water supply itself is not enough because of the drought that we experienced,” he said.
“Do not hide issues, tell us the challenges you have so that we address the issue and avoid epidemics like cholera,” Sekeramai said.
Currently, Harare is drawing 150 million litres daily from Lake Manyame and hopes to draw 450 million litres if pumps bought under the $9,3 million facility availed by government in November this year are installed.
Council officials also expressed concern over financial constraints as they were working with the 2018 figures, a situation that has seen consumers paying an equivalent of US$1 a month in high-density areas for water and about US$3 a month for water in low-density suburbs, which they said was unsustainable.
The local authority collects between $12 million and $15 million a month while the chemicals bill is around $14 million.
However, the cash-strapped local authority owes, Chemplex, more than $78 million that it is failing to settle due to the financial crisis.
Senators also quizzed the council officials on why they were distributing smelly water that sometimes had objects.
In their defence, the council officials blamed obsolete pipes they said sometimes contained rust.
They, however, argued that the water was good for drinking.
“When there is no water, dirt accumulates in those pipes and when it then comes back, it takes with it what would have accumulated but we put enough chlorine to have it potable. – News Day