BULAWAYO’s water crisis has worsened forcing some schools to dismiss learners early as part of contingency measures in light of a looming health disaster.
There are also reports that public schools in the metropolitan province owe council $23 million in water bills, which the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education is disputing.
City residents are set to endure a prolonged water shedding exercise as the Bulawayo City Council (BCC) struggles to pump water to the city due to alleged power outages.
However, on the other hand, Zimbabwe Electricity Transmission and Distribution Company (ZETDC) has absolved itself of any blame in the ongoing water shedding programme saying there was no major electricity fault in the city.
Council last Friday introduced a weekly 48-hour water shedding programme to affect the city except for the city centre and industrial sites.
The local authority has since increased the water shedding exercise to 72 hours per week although residents in some suburbs have gone for almost a week without water.
Nkulumane Primary School yesterday dismissed learners early citing the prevailing water crisis, which has seen ablution facilities being overwhelmed.
When Chronicle visited the school yesterday morning shortly after 10AM, the news crew observed learners streaming out of the school yard after teachers had dismissed them due to the water challenges.
The chairperson of the Nkulumane Primary School Development Committee (SDC), Mr Morgan Masuku confirmed that learners were dismissed earlier due to the water challenges at the school.
“Our children are no longer safe at school because of the current water crisis, which has hit the entire city. School authorities consulted us over the issue and it was agreed that our children should be dismissed early to avert an imminent health disaster,” he said.
“We also have a challenge with BCC’s water billing system, which we are challenging given that schools are not commercial entities. Council says we owe them $1,2 million, which does not tally with our consumption,” he said.
The school has an enrolment of 1 900 learners from early childhood development (ECD) to Grade Seven class. Mr Masuku said the school relies on a single backup borehole which is failing to cope with the water demand.
Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education spokesperson Mr Taungana Ndoro said whenever there is a critical water shortage, affected schools are supposed to take contingency measures, such as dismissing pupils.
“When a school has no water, it can reduce learning hours or dismiss learners altogether while looking for contingency measures to address the challenge,” he said.
Mr Ndoro confirmed that public schools in Bulawayo were sitting on a $23 million water bill, which he said was not justified given that the city is facing a critical water crisis.
“Some of our schools have reduced learning hours because of water challenges and then you have a bill of more than $23 million. How can you have such a ridiculous water bill when that water is not even there?” he queried.
“Had we been receiving adequate water supplies consistently there should be a warrant that we should pay that money. It is a matter of rationalisation where we need to find out whether the bills are a true reflection of the consumption.”
Mr Ndoro said schools are non-profit making entities hence council billing should also reflect on that aspect.
“Council can’t be charging such exorbitant bills yet there is no water. Our schools are up to date with their bills.
Remember schools are providing a corporate social responsibility for our learners and communities,” he said.
“Schools are not profit-making entities but we are there to provide an essential service. Having a $23 million bill means we should go back to the drawing board and address the issue.
We need to continue providing quality, relevant and inclusive education for all Zimbabweans for the socio-economic transformation of the nation.”
Mr Ndoro said the ministry will engage council over the issue. He said there should be correlation between the bill charged by council and water supplied.
“There is a critical water challenge in Bulawayo and this is not the first time to have such a challenge, but we are saying that should also reflect on the bills that are being charged to our schools. Some of our lawns have not been irrigated for quite some time because of the critical ware situation,” he said.
“If we are getting little water it should translate to a small bill. We are engaging council over this issue.”
Bulawayo province has 201 registered schools, most of which are Government-run with an enrolment of a total of 201 977 pupils.
BCC corporate communications manager Mrs Nesisa Mpofu did not respond to questions emailed to her over the issue.
In a statement on Tuesday, Bulawayo Town Clerk Mr Christopher Dube said the city is still experiencing power outages and as a result council has increased water shedding to three days a week.
He said the power outage resulted in the loss of and subsequently subdued abstraction and pumping.
Mr Dube said due to the power disruption, council will reduce Nyamandlovu pumping from the regular 15ML/day to 3ML/day.
According to a council water shedding schedule, Bellevue, Newton West, West Somerton, Montrose, Southwold, Sizinda, Tshabalala, Nkulumane 10 to 12, Mpopoma South, Old Pelandaba, Iminyela, Burnside, Pumula North and Pumula East, Cowdray Park, Gwabalanda, Emakhandeni, Barbourfields, Mzilikazi, Nguboyenja and Makokoba, Ilanda, Romney Park, Paddonhurst, Bradfield, Tegela, Emhlangeni and Sunnyside will experience water cuts from Thursday at 7:30AM and taps will be reopened on Monday at the same time.
Taps will be opened on Friday at 7:30AM and closed on Tuesday at the same time in Esigodini, Imbizo Barracks, Fortunes Gate, Selbourne Park, Matsheumhlope, Parklands, Khumalo, Queenspark, Suburbs Mahatshula, Woodville and Kingsdale.
Nkulumane 5, Nketa, Emganwini, Pumula South, Old Pumula, Pelandaba West, Khami, Magwegwe, Lobengula West, Lobengula, Mabutweni, Matshobane, Njube, Luveve, Mpopoma, Magwegwe North and Magwegwe West, Harrisvale, Trenance Richmond and Sauerstown will have supplies disconnected from Saturday at 7:30AM and taps will be reopened on Wednesday at the same time.