The prevailing water woes facing the city of Bulawayo has resulted in the suspension of operations at agro-processing firm- the United Refineries Limited (URL)- after more than eight decades in existence.

The second biggest city is presently experiencing its worst water crisis in 21st century history, which is largely blamable on the failure by the local authority to expand its pumping capacity in tandem with the city’s growing population.

For years, URL, which now has a staff compliment of around 400 people, has been operating despite the continued de-industrialisation attributable to worsening economic woes affecting the landlocked southern African nation.

The company is one of the country’s leading and innovative producers of cooking oil and brands in personal care, hygiene and other value added agro-products categories.

It recently introduced mealie-meal production and now has most of its food products fortified with critical vitamins for consumer health benefits.

URL has over the years grown to become one of Zimbabwe’s leading brand manufacturers with export focus while looking forward to continued innovation.

The company is also keen to list shares on the newly established Victoria Falls Stock Exchange (VFEX).

United Refineries uses between 60 000 and 150 000 litres of water on a daily basis.

Said the company in a statement announcing its temporary closure yesterday:

“We regret to inform our customers, suppliers and stakeholders that we have had limited water supplies to our factory for the last seven days and the situation has not improved.
As a result, we have had to temporarily suspend our factory operations as we await the situation to normalise”.

URL also added that it continues to engage Bulawayo City Council with regards to restoring the situation to normalcy.

“We are aware this is happening as we prepare for the festive season stocking programmes and promotions,” said the company.

URL’s chief executive officer Busisa Moyo said they were affected by the low levels at Criterion reservoirs.

“We are looking at other alternative water sources to try and mitigate the situation. That’s why we had to tell our customers because our customers want their products but we don’t have water to produce the products. We have tried (looking for alternatives) over the weekend, bringing in bowsers and the like but we can’t run the plant with such water supplies hence this temporary suspension of production.

“We are aware of the low water levels at Criterion water works, remember where we are situated is at the end of the supply line. So, if pressure is low, we end up with no water,” said Moyo.

“We are shutting down factory operations because we can’t run the factory without water. We are still assessing the situation but we haven’t reached a stage to talk about what will happen to workers. It is temporary and we are hoping the situation will be rectified soon.”
Bulawayo Provincial Affairs and Devolution Minister, Judith Ncube said she was seized with the issue.

“I have seen the statement by United Refineries and I have contacted the Bulawayo City Council to find out. They haven’t replied me yet but our position is that we want to ensure the company does not close,” Minister Ncube told the state media.

Bulawayo Town Clerk, Christopher Dube said he was not at liberty to comment on the matter as he was yet to come across the statement from URL yesterday.

“I haven’t seen the statement from United Refineries so I cannot comment on something that I don’t know,” said Dube.

In recent years, the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI), which represents the local manufacturing sector, has singled out water shortages is one of the challenges facing Bulawayo companies.

According to the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (Zinwa) completion of the drilling and equipping of 10 boreholes at Epping Forest in Nyamandlovu, a project that will deliver an additional 10 megalitres (ML) per day to the city’s depressed water supplies, is almost complete.

state media