HARARE: Sanitation Status

Sanitation provision in Harare (the capital city of Zimbabwe) is grossly deficient, as in most cities in sub-Saharan Africa: most people do not have access to a hygienic toilet; large amounts of faecal waste are discharged to the environment without adequate treatment; this is likely to have major impacts on infectious disease burden and quality of life (Hutton et al. 2007). This article briefly summarizes the current sanitation situation in Harare.

This page is part of the fully editable open-access reference source on the sanitation status of all major cities in sub-Saharan Africa.  The resource considers the 40 urban agglomerations in sub-Saharan Africa with a current population of 1 million or more. To read some of the other 40 country profiles, go back tothe resource Homepage

N.B These pages should be considered as incomplete provisional drafts, and contributions are actively requested from specialists with expert local knowledge of each specific city

Table of Contents

Background information

Harare is an urban agglomeration with a population of about 2.3 million people (Brinkhoff 2010). It is located on a high plateau (1400 m): some parts are hilly, some flatter. Climate is subtropical highland (Köppen classification Cwb). Zimbabwe is projected to suffer water stress by 2025 (UNEP/GRID-Arendal 2002). Flooding is a significant problem, notably in Epworth and Caledonia districts (IOM 2008). There is extensive industrial activity including steel, chemicals and textiles. There is also significant urban agricultural activity, notably widespread use of flood-prone peri-urban sites for maize and horticultural crops (BBC 2001). A large proportion of the population lives in low-income settlements, including informal settlements.

Water resources and supply: overview

The city’s water comes mainly from Lakes Chivero and Manyame (Nhapi et al. 2006), with distribution reservoirs for Harare, Ruwa , Norton , Chitungwiza and Epworth. We do not have city-wide data on water supply; however, Makoni et al. (2004) provide data on three low-income settlements in Epworth (Zinyengere, Overspill and New Gada): in Zinyengere most households (73%) had access to a communal standpipe, while most of the remainder (23%) used unprotected sources including traditional wells; in Overspill most (90%) of households had in-plot piped supply, while the remainder used unprotected sources or bought from vendors; in New Gada almost all households used unprotected sources. It seems likely that the piped water supply system is currently severely dysfunctional.

Sanitation access

Harare is unusual among African cities: at least until recently, a very high proportion of inhabitants of formally recognized residential districts (including relatively low-income districts) had flush toilets connected to the sewer network (UNEP/IETC 2002). However, Harare’s extensive informal settlements are not generally served by the sewerage system. Furthermore, the sewerage system is currently in very poor repair and dysfunctional. Studies in three neighbourhoods of the partially informal (non-recognized) settlement Epworth found pit latrines to be the most common solution (Makoni et al. 2004). Specifically, between 1 and 33% of households had pour-flush toilets (presumably discharging to sewers, septic tanks or open drains); between 23 and 37% of households had Blair latrines (i.e. ventilated improved pit latrines); between 24 and 48% of households had insanitary pit latrines; between 2 and 13% of households had no toilet facilities. Practical Action (2010) reports that open defecation is widespread in informal settlements. Practical Action (2010) also notes a recent UN-funded project that installed about 800 Fossa Alterna dry-composting toilets in the slum area of Bellapaise in Epworth. [Note that, under municipal regulations, septic tanks are only authorised for householders with plots of 2,000 m2 or more (UNEP/IETC 2002).] In evident relation to sanitation, the 2008/2009 cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe killed about 4300 people (OCHA 2009), many in Harare; this was the worst African cholera outbreak in 15 years. The epidemic coincided with a period of severe political and economic crisis, leading to non-maintenance and breakdown of public health systems (water treatment and supply, sewerage, solid waste disposal, health care); see the Wikipedia page “2008-2009 Zimbabwean cholera epidemic”. It is worth noting that Harare’s main sewage treatment facilities (see below) discharge to rivers draining to Lakes Chivero and Manyame, the city's principal sources of water: thus inadequate operation of the sewage treatment and water purification facilities can be expected to have a severe public health impact.

Sewerage system

Harare has a sewerage system serving most of the formal settlements in the city, including lower-income settlements (perhaps as many as 1.8 million people, about 80% of the total metropolis population; Nhapi 2006). However, this sewerage system is currently highly dysfunctional. The sewerage system does not serve informal settlements (Zingoni 2005), where pit latrines and open defecation are widespread (Practical Action 2010).

Septage management (septage = nightsoil and/or sludge from onsite facilities)

We have no information on septage management systems in Harare. Apart from high-cost tanker services for septic tank owners, it seems unlikely that there is any significant institutional support for latrine owners in low-income districts.

Sewage treatment (sewage = sewered wastes and/or septage)

Nhapi et al. (2006) report that sewage goes to two large activated sludge plants: Crowborough (capacity 54,000 m3/day, 2002 estimated inflow 107,000 m3/day) and Firle (capacity 144,000 m3/day, 2002 estimated inflow 153,000 m3/day). Large volumes of inadequately treated wastewater are discharged to the Rivers Marimba and Mukuvisi, which drain to Lakes Chivero and Manyame, the city's major sources of water. The city also has two waste stabilisation ponds and an aeration pond; significant quantities of wastewater and sludge are applied to pasture. Nhapi et al. (2006) provide very detailed information on wastewater treatment and wastewater impacts on water resources in Harare; they note that a major problem is very high water use (leading to very high wastewater volumes) in relatively wealthy parts of the city. Note that this article was published before the 2008/2009 public health breakdown and cholera outbreak. Likewise before the cholera outbreak, a Reuters news report published in January 2007 documents the total breakdown of the Firle plant, such that “half of the raw sewage from Harare [was being] discharged into the capital's main water reservoir” (Reuter 2007). A report published in a Zimbabwean government newspaper in March 2010 states that a US$ 6.2 million contract for rehabilitation of the two plants has been awarded to the Zimbabwean company Sidal Engineering (The Herald, 2010); we have no independent confirmation of this. 

Sanitation in low-income districts

We do not have detailed information on sanitation in low-income informal settlements. Practical Action (2010) states that low-quality pit latrines and open defecation are the common solutions in these settlements. See also Makoni et al.’s (2004) study of sanitation in three low-income settlements in Epworth (Zinyengere, Overspill and New Gada). We are not aware of any detailed mapping of high-sanitation-need districts, or of any specific policy for sanitation improvement in informal settlements. Indeed, the Zimbabwean government is applying an aggressive slum clearance policy (Operation Murambatsvina = Operation Restore Order) that has attracted widespread international criticism (see Wikipedia “Operation Murambatsvina”). A UN report suggests that in the order of 150,000 Harare slum dwellers had had their homes demolished as at mid 2005 (Tibaijuka 2005). Districts affected by the Operation Murambatsvina include Mbare, Epworth and Chitingwiza; many of the displaced residents have been forcibly relocated to a “transit camp”known as Caledonia Farm, about 26 km from Harare and with practically no facilities other than emergency services provided by international NGOs (Tibaijuka 2005).


Responsibility for water supply in Harare lies with the Harare Water Supply Division of the Zimbabwe National Water Authority. As at April 2010, institutional responsibility for Harare’s sewerage system and wastewater treatment plants is unclear. A March 2007 report in the government newspaper (The Herald 2007) indicated that ZINWA had taken over control of the system from Harare City Council; but a January 2009 newspaper report (Zimbabwe Independent 2009) states that management of water and sewerage is to be devolved from ZINWA to local councils. As at April 2010, neither the website of ZINWA nor that of Harare City Council indicate any responsibility for sewerage.  However, the Harare City Council website (see link below) indicates that its Waste Management Disvision offers services including septic tank emptying, portable toilet hire, and public toilets provision.

Sanitation masterplan?

As far as we know, Harare has no sanitation masterplan, or broader masterplan covering sanitation. There does not appear to be any integrated system for management of sewerage and onsite sanitation.

Sanitation financing

No information available.

Major investments and donor interventions

We are not aware of any major donor interventions in Harare.

Sources and further reading

Makoni et al. (2004) and Nhapi et al. (2006) are very useful documents.

Institute of Water and Sanitation Development: http://www.iwsd.co.zw/

Zimbabwe National Water Authority: http://www.zinwa.co.zw/index.htm

Harare City Council: http://www.hararecity.co.zw/index.php?option=com_content&view=section&layout=blog&id=20&Itemid=93


BBC (2001) “Vegetable gardens in the city, Zimbabwe”. (Notes accompanying series of radio programme broadcast between January and March 2001). http://www.nri.org/projects/InTheField/harare_peri_urban.htm

Brinkhoff T (2010) City Population. http://www.citypopulation.de

IMO [International Organization for Migration] (2008) “Flooding brings more misery to vulnerable households”. News report 11 Jan 2008. http://iom.org.za/site/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=115&Itemid=39

Makoni FS, Ndamba J, Mbati PA & Manase G (2004) Impact of waste disposal on health of a poor urban community in Zimbabwe. East African Medical Journal 81 (2004) 422-426. http://ajol.info/index.php/eamj/article/view/9204

Nhapi I, Siebel MA & Gijzen HJ (2006) A proposal for managing wastewater in Harare, Zimbabwe. Water and Environment Journal 20 (2006) 101–108. http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/118593387/abstract?CRETRY=1&SRETRY=0

Practical Action (2010) “Low-cost sanitation technology - Zimbabwe.” Practical Action. http://practicalaction.org/practicalanswers/product_info.php?products_id=408&attrib=2

Reuters (2007) “Untreated sewage polluting Harare water supply”. Article published 15 Jan 2007. http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSL15247637

The Herald (2007) Sewage Management: Challenges and Solutions. 14 March 2007. http://allafrica.com/stories/200703140171.html

The Herald (2010) “Harare Sewer Plants' Rehabilitation Underway”. 8 March 2010. http://allafrica.com/stories/201003080378.htmlHutton G, Haller L & Bartram J (2007) Economic and health effects of increasing coverage of low cost household drinking-water supply and sanitation interventions to countries off-track to meet MDG target 10. Geneva, Switzerland, World Health Organization. http://www.irc.nl/page/38443

Tibaijuka AK (2005) “UN Report of the fact-finding mission to Zimbabwe to assess the scope and impact of Operation Murambatsvina”. United Nations.  http://www.sarpn.org.za/documents/d0001387/index.php

UNEP/GRID-Arendal (2002)  Water availability in Africa. UNEP/GRID-Arendal Maps and Graphics Library. http://maps.grida.no/go/graphic/water_availability_in_africa.

UNEP/IETC (2002) International Source Book on Environmentally Sound Technologies for Wastewater and Stormwater Management. http://www.unep.or.jp/Ietc/Publications/TechPublications/TechPub-15/main_index.asp

Zimbabwe Independent (2009) Zinwa Loses Water Management. 30 January 2009. http://allafrica.com/stories/200901300586.html

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