Beitbridge town has run dry after the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (Zinwa) cut supplies, forcing the local district hospital to discharge maternity patients without a bath.
It is understood Zinwa wants a pre-payment of $3 million before restoring supplies in the town of close to 50 000 people owing $12 million.
Zinwa commissioned its prepaid bulk meter to council on Monday, effectively cutting supplies after the local authority failed to secure a court interdict to stop the water authority from installing the prepaid meter.
It has also emerged that water bills written off by then Local Government minister, Ignatius Chombo just before the 2013 general elections were burdening councils as they were accumulating interest with Zinwa.
A senior health technician Caroline Siphuma said the 120-bed hospital has suspended most delicate operations and reserved its admissions for emergencies only.
“We are discharging mothers and their new-born without a bath. We are sitting on a time bomb,” Siphuma said at a hastily convened stakeholders meeting to map the way forward, which was presided over by the Beitbridge Town Council.
Town secretary Loud Ramakgapola appealed to households to pay at least $20 monthly for outstanding water bills.
“We need $170 000 for our use and with 9 000 households we can reach that target,” he said.
Council finance director Anymore Mbedzi said the commercial sector of Beitbridge, the low-density suburbs and government departments were the biggest culprits in non-payment of water bills.
People in the high-density areas generally viewed as poor were the ones servicing their bills, Mbedzi said.
Collectively Beitbridge owes Zinwa $12 million, which the local authority disputes blaming the huge bill to ageing pipes which are heavily leaking.
Zinwa did not write off council water debts despite the government, in 2013, ordering local authorities to write off debts by individual ratepayers.
Residents, who included businessmen, asked council to explore ways of taking over water supplies from Zinwa.
Council, with the support of stakeholders, resolved to disconnect supply to defaulters to induce payment. The council was also asked to expedite billing which always two months is behind.
Ramakgapola said council will install prepaid water meters in July.
Residents of the border town have in the last four days been buying water from water vendors, who recorded brisk business in the past few days.