Harare has developed a huge appetite for bottled water lately. The taste is shaped by lack of clean drinking water.
An estimated 300,000 litres change hands daily in the city of over 1.6 million inhabitants.
The main reason for the boom as it has been established is how undrinkable the water coming from alternative sources are.
Finance minister, Patrick Chinamasa, recently said that imports have reached “crazy” levels.
The surge in demand for bottled water has led to new business opportunities.
Farai Mushayademo sells water along the streets of Harare. and on a good day he makes about 30 US dollars.
“I survive on selling water and soft drinks on the street, this enables me to pay rent and take care of my family,” he said.
As Zimbabwe struggles with a hot, dry summer, a growing share of people have become part-time bottled water vendors. Ice cream sellers, security guards and school teachers alike can be found hawking water as a side business.
Supermarkets have opened new counters advertising “sweet drinking water by reverse osmosis science.”
But not all of the water for sale on Harare’s streets is safe.
“We prefer bottled water than that of the city council which has rusty particles and a funny colour,” said an unidentified Harare resident.
“Some of the bottled water has foreign particles sometimes, so I don’t see the difference between them and the city council water,” added another resident.
As water quality declines, in part the result of worsening drought, some families who drink or bathe in what comes out of the tap are becoming sick with problems from rashes to typhoid.
“This is evidence that the local authority has been unable to match the demand for water despite the US$144 million Chinese loan investment in the upgrading of water pumping infrastructure. There is evidence that this has not necessarily improved, the quality of water has not improved the supply of water.
“So to us these people have taken advantage of an opportunity that has presented itself and they are making a lot of money out of it,” Precious Shumba, Director of Harare residents’ trust said.
About half of the city’s water is lost through leaks in failing distribution pipes on its way to homes, and illegal connections are also a problem, water engineers say.