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View the documentStrain, Water Demand, and Supply Directions in the Most Stressed Water Systems of Southern Africa except South Africa and Namibia
View the documentImproving Water Supply Systems in Rural West and Central Africa

Strain, Water Demand, and Supply Directions in the Most Stressed Water Systems of Southern Africa except South Africa and Namibia

Luke Onyekakeyah

Environmental Scientist and Consultant, Nairobi, Kenya


A stressed water system is one in which degradation is taking place or where there is a threat to its capacity to continue providing adequate water supply, in quantity and quality, to households, communities, and nations.

This study of stressed water systems in the southern Africa subregion used three methods:

· Questionnaires were administered to identified expert contacts in all eight countries. Thirty-two questionnaires were administered, and 16 (50%) were returned.

· A 1-week visit to the two countries serving as study samples, Zambia and Zimbabwe, was made to obtain detailed data.

· Pertinent information in published materials was reviewed and analyzed to supplement the field data.

Respondents were requested to identify stressed local water systems. Although this system of identifying stressed water points had obvious shortcomings, it provided an acceptable source of preliminary data. Further scientific data could be obtained through appropriate research. Respondents noted that most of the regional water courses were under stress (Table 1).

Actual data on groundwater were generally lacking. According to Moyo et al. (1993), well-digging to extract groundwater began in the 19th century and penetrated to deeper and more effective sources with the availability of the diesel pump in the 20th century. There were no available statistics on the number of boreholes or well points, but it was estimated that over the last two decades the the number has increased tremendously, from 500 to 10 000. These are suspected to be depleting the groundwater reserves, the total quantity of which is yet unknown.

Against this background, I designed the survey to obtain factual information on the water-stress issue so that I could determine the most appropriate research agenda to address the region’s strained water resources.

Sources of stress and alleviation strategies

A stress factor is any element or situation that obstructs the accessibility or quality of the water supply. Moreover, any factor or situation that puts too much demand on the available water supply, thereby making it unable to satisfy the projected demand, is regarded as a stress factor.

The incidence of stress also has a space-time dimension and can be classified as either temporal or permanent. Human activities, such as the discharge of industrial waste into the Kafue River in Zambia, limit the accessibility and quality of water, reducing its availability for different uses. As long as this situation persists, the population depending on the water source may be forced to explore alternative sources of water supply. However, this situation can change if the polluting industries adopt cleaner methods of production. The source of stress under these conditions has the possibility of changing over time.

On the other hand, stress can be permanent if its impact on the water-supply source cannot be reversed. For example, the construction of several hydropower stations on the River Zambezi inevitably reduces the quantity of water available to the population living downstream. This situation may be irreversible, and the stress on the water system is permanent.

Stress elements that limit the quality of water for different uses can be

· purposive utilization, such as for domestic uses, agriculture, mining, and industry;

· unattended utilization, such as wastage and pollution; and

· purposive pollution, such as convenient dumping of waste before treatment.


Most of southern Africa lies in a drought-prone region, which experiences natural drought conditions caused by the prolonged absence of rainfall in both time and space. This problem affects many parts of sub-Saharan Africa. Within southern Africa, drought is considered a critical issue of development planning because it underlies many problems encountered in water-resources utilization. According to available records, drought conditions have occurred in roughly 20-year cycles: in the 1960s, in the 1980s, and again in 1991-92 (Moyo et al. 1993).

The occurrence of drought has serious consequences on water availability for domestic and agricultural use, reducing the water supply both in quantity and in quality. Reduced access to water particularly affects herding communities and forces the people and their livestock to concentrate and compete for water around water holes and other sources (Moyo et al. 1993). Drought, therefore, makes traditional farming and grazing lifestyles inadequate and unsustainable (Keating 1993) and results in poverty and starvation. An estimated 3 million people died in the mid-1980s because of drought in sub-Saharan Africa (Keating 1993).

Attempts have been made to deal with drought situations by increasing water supply. In Zimbabwe, for example, a major interbasin water transfer currently is being undertaken. The Zambezi Water Project is intended to pipe some of the water that thunders over the Victoria Falls through the arid landscape of western Zimbabwe, to help redress the effects of recurrent drought in that area (ZERO1993) and provide enough water for domestic and agricultural purposes. Similarly, in Zambia, the Community Management and Monitoring Unit (CMMU) of the Department of Water Affairs (DWA), under its Water, Sanitation, and Health Education (WASHE), is initiating a number of community-based field programs to educate the people in water conservation and to make water points easily accessible (Carty 1994). In addition, some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are working with communities to increase the water supply by constructing more boreholes (Connolly 1991). Similarly, the Zimbabwe Environment Research Organization has drawn up a regional research project to identify long-term strategies to cope with the recurrent drought in southern Africa, particularly in Zimbabwe (ZERO1993). The project will cover three countries, Botswana, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, and has the following objectives:

· to document droughts within the three countries since 1900;

· to identify areas where drought impacts were most severe;

· to assess the region’s current early-warning systems and analyze their strengths and weaknesses; and

· to investigate the impact of drought on vulnerable groups, especially women, children, the elderly, and the unemployed.

With the actions being undertaken at all levels, it is hoped that appropriate solutions will be found to deal with future drought situations in the subregion.

Soil erosion and sedimentation

Land degradation is a serious problem in catchments with large population concentrations and in high-rainfall areas. Misuse of land and vegetation by overgrazing and adoption of inappropriate agricultural practices has inevitably exposed large watersheds and made them susceptible to severe erosion. Arntzen and Veenendal (1986) showed that erosion is a serious problem in the region, exacerbated by periods of drought and intense rainfall. Several types of erosion occur. For example, sheetwash, rill erosion, and gullying have been identified in the hardveld of Botswana (Moyo et al. 1983). In Lesotho, a detailed study of soil erosion and reservoir sedimentation in two catchments of Roma Valley and the Maliele area revealed very disturbing levels of erosion and siltation (Chakela 1981). The rates of net erosion varied from about 100 to 2000 t/km per year.

The incidence of soil erosion has severe impacts on water resources. Based on figures recorded at Little Caledon, Lesotho (Moyo et al. 1993), it has been found that soil erosion leads to the following:

· sediments in the floodplains of major streams and in reservoirs;

· rapid siltation of several reservoirs constructed since the late 1950s;

· high sediment loads in the major streams; and

· development of river terraces.

Such sedimentation may explain the current low water-holding capacity of many dams and reservoirs in Zimbabwe. For example, it has been found that out of the more than 8 000 dams with a total storage capacity of 4.9 x 109 m³ of water, those in some of the drier parts of the country were holding only 15-25% of their capacity, even toward the end of the rainy season (Holmberg and Timberlake 1991; Moyo et al. 1991, 1993). This is due to soil erosion and sedimentation, even though there are no data to explain the exact impact. Under such circumstances, the water supply is greatly reduced and could lead to demand competition.

Despite its importance, the soil-erosion issue seems to have received limited attention in the environmental agendas of the countries in the subregion. Within the division of portfolios among the Southern African Development Community (SADC) member states, Lesotho has responsibility for soil erosion.This is in response to the country’s extensive environmental problems (Moyo et al. 1993). As early as 1936, technical attempts to combat soil erosion in Lesotho were initiated in the form of contours along undulating lowlands and tree planting. These early efforts had limited success because of the forceful methods used by the colonial government.

In terms of research, there is a shortage of information on soil-erosion studies, making data-compilation difficult (Stocking 1987). There seem to have been only limited proposals on this issue at both the national and the regional levels, so numerous opportunities exist. Based on the current situation, future research efforts should focus on

· determining the relationship between drought and soil erosion;

· determining the rate of sedimentation and impact on dams; and

· assessing the role of human activities in generating soil erosion.

Rapid population growth

The dynamics of population in the region and the pressure on available water resources are a primary issue to be considered in discussing the sources of stress on water resources. During the past decade, southern African countries have experienced rapid population growth. The population of many countries has almost doubled in this same period, with no additional increase in water supply, meaning that available water resources have to be shared among competing demands. Current estimates put Zimbabwe’s population growth rate at 3%, which, if sustained, would produce a population of 15 million by 2006 and 20 million by 2016 (Moyo et al. 1993).

The effects of population on water resources are manifested in the water-demand side of the issue, for there is a serious demand to satisfy needs, as well as sectoral demands for agriculture and industry. In Zimbabwe, current water-consumption levels for the various sectors show that the bulk of water is consumed in urban areas (representing 23% of the population) and in commercial farming and mining areas (together representing 20% of the population). Communal areas (representing 57% of the population) account for a smaller portion of water consumption, as drinking water for people and livestock is supplied mostly through groundwater at point sources (Holmberg et al. 1991; Moyo et al. 1991, 1993). These figures do not indicate whether the demand of all water-user sectors is met adequately, nor do they show the level of the demand.

There is no indication that governments are attempting to evolve any policy to control population growth in Zambia or Zimbabwe, or indeed anywhere in southern Africa. No country has a clear government policy on population.

To address issues bordering on population demand for water, the DWA in Zambia, under the CMMU-WASHE program, is carrying out field studies to determine per capita water demand (Carty 1994). This is being done to determine existing water demand in relation to supply; however, more actions are needed.

A research agenda could be based on the United Nations (UN) global position on the population and resource relationship and address issues such as

· the need for countries to know their national population-carrying capacity (the capacity of the resource base to support and provide for the needs of human population);

· the need to pay special attention to critical resources such as water; and

· the need to deal with migrations that result from and lead to stress on water resources, that is, to environmental degradation.

Industrial pollution

The SADC region is not highly industrialized in comparison with Western industrial nations. However, it has great potential for industrial development, especially after passing through the long transition period from colonial domination to self-governance and economic determination. Owing to the low level of industrial activity, the impact of this sector on the environment in general and on water resources in particular has been localized.

The industrial pollution of the Kafue River, an important freshwater source in Zambia, is a good case in point (Macfoy 1994). The river passes through Zambia’s copperbelt industrial complex, an area where major mining, agricultural, and hydropower schemes are located. Some of the major industries in this complex include Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines, Rokana Corporation Limited, Kafue Textiles of Zambia, Nitrogen Chemicals of Zambia, Bata Tannery, and National Breweries. Industrialization has brought with it extensive drainage and pollution problems. Because of the lack of water-disposal systems, the practice of the industries has been to discharge industrial waste directly into the Kafue River, making it perhaps the most polluted river in the subregion. The consequences of pollution on the Kafue include

· high concentration of chemicals in the water;

· reduction in the quantity of freshwater consumed by humans and animals as the quality of drinking water is increasingly affected;

· increased turbidity;
· proliferation of aquatic weeds (eutrophication);
· disappearance of aquatic animals; and
· silting of the nearby dams.

Consequently, as less water has been available, people have been forced to explore alternative sources of water, both for human consumption and for livestock.

The Zambian government has taken some action to deal with the pollution of the Kafue River. In 1985 the government adopted the National Conservation Strategy, and in 1990 Parliament passed the Environmental Protection and Pollution Control Act (EPPCA), providing the legal framework for the smooth implementation of the strategy. Under EPPCA, it is a serious offense to discharge effluent with levels of pollutants higher than the minimum acceptable level or to abstract water without a licence. The government also established the Environmental Council of Zambia to enforce EPPCA. In 1993, the Pollution Control Regulation was reinforced by the Waste Management Regulation, which mandates the council to restrict the handling, storage, transport, and treatment of waste. A task force was also set up to manually remove aquatic weeds in the river, but this proved unsuccessful.

Despite measures such as these taken by the authorities to control pollution, it is evident that not much has been achieved: there are still flagrant violations of the Pollution Control Regulation, and enforcement of the legislation has been ineffective. There is, therefore, a need to reexamine the enforcement strategy to make the legislation more effective.

Research initiatives on pollution need to investigate the effects of pollution on humans and animals, as well as the effect of soil acidity on plants. In addition, a systematic program for monitoring water quality, in line with the Hydrological Cycle Observing System for SADC (HYCOS-SADC), is needed to improve the collection and management of hydrological data.

Commercial agriculture

Commercial agriculture involves cash-crop and livestock production for trade and income generation. It may involve an intensive system, with high application of inputs to increase yield per hectare, or an extensive system, entailing cultivation of large expanses of land. There are also two types of commercial agriculture: large-scale commercial farms and small-scale commercial farms. Both use large quantities of water for irrigation and livestock to increase production.

Commercial agriculture is widely practiced throughout the region. In Zimbabwe, the total irrigated land under commercial agriculture is 14.1 x 106 ha, with 12.7 x 106 and 1.4 x 106 ha for large- and small-scale commercial farms, respectively (Whitlow 1988), about 36.2% of the total arable land. Most of the water used in the country comes from surface water impounded by dams, and almost 90% of the estimated 4.9 x 109 m³ of water stored is used for agriculture (Holmberg et al. 1991; Moyo et al. 1991, 1993), leaving only 10% for other uses.

According to Moyo et al. (1993), the problems and constraints of agricultural production stem from the rapidly growing population and the finite boundaries of the communal areas. Demand for household arable plots leads to encroachment into grazing areas, but cattle numbers continue to rise. Overstocking is most frequently cited as an indicator of imbalance between resources and people. In Botswana the cattle population is 2.5 million, and cattle continue to be dominant in Swaziland’s livestock sector.

Commercial agriculture usually involves excessive use of water, which puts strain on the available water supply. Moreover, chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and insecticides intensively applied to farmlands can be washed into watercourses by surface runoff and cause contamination. Concentrations of nutrients have apparently created eutrophication and blooming of aquatic weeds, such as Salvinia molestica in the Okavango River and Eichorrnia crassipes (water hyacinth) in the Kafue River, Harare’s Lake Chibero Reservoir, and the Upper Umgusa Dam near Bulawayo (Moyo et al. 1993). Water hyacinth is already a problem in Lake Victoria and upstream in the Kagera River.

Agriculture remains a major economic activity and source of income to most countries in southern Africa. Consequently, solutions to address the environmental problems associated with commercial agriculture appear to have received little attention. In Zimbabwe, for example, the Natural Resources Act 1941, which was amended in 1975 and 1981, provides for the establishment of Intensive Conservation Areas, in which commercial farmers are required to undertake soil-conservation measures. However, the issues of water consumption, open-channel irrigation with its associated problems (such as mosquito infestation), and contamination of water courses from farm drainage have not been addressed. Furthermore, the problem of overstocking seems to have been left to ecological balance or the ability of the ecosystem to support the livestock. Therefore, the Natural Resources Act is of limited value as an instrument of natural resource management, particularly in areas where degradation is most acute and where there is no other law or policy to ensure enforcement.

The foregoing analysis suggests certain research questions. For example, the relationship between eutrophication and farm-water drainage needs to be determined. Furthermore, it is important to compare water loss by evapotranspiration through open-channel irrigation with water loss through other irrigation methods, such as the drip system. Finally, it is important to explore groundwater-recharge potentials under irrigation conditions.

Hydropower development

One aspect of water use and management in the region involves the production of hydropower. Apart from generating electricity, water impounded in dams is used for irrigation, flood control, drinking-water supplies, stock watering, and fish farming. Such integrated water management is currently perceived as key to sustainable development in several sectors of the economy, and there are possibilities for such development to continue into the future. A coordinated program for hydropower development is being implemented jointly between Zambia and Zimbabwe under the framework of the Zambezi River Authority. Some projects have been completed under the program. Several other hydropower schemes have been proposed to supply electricity to essentially all the countries sharing the river system.

In Mozambique, five schemes are in operation: Cobra Bassa (2 075 MW), Chicamba (38 MW), Mavuzi (5 MW), Lichinga, and Cuamba. At present, approximately one fifth of the potential hydroelectric power has been developed in the Cobra Bassa scheme, stage 1 of which has been completed (Moyo et al. 1993). Similarly, in Lesotho, the Lesotho Highlands Water Project is developing an estimated 1 300 GW (Moyo et al. 1993). It is evident, therefore, that the combined demand for hydropower in the region is enormous.

There seems to have been no consideration of the impact of dams on the water systems, although dams and river diversions have been known to affect both water quality and water quantity, leading to local and temporary water shortages (Keating 1993). For example, the major rivers of Zimbabwe, such as the Save and Limpopo, become rivers of sand with muddy pools joined by a trickle of brown water by the end of the dry season (Moyo et al. 1993). Lake Kyle is also reported to be suffering from dangerously high evaporation rates. These problems are further compounded by the rapid siltation of reservoirs. The impact of dams is certainly felt from the supply angle, as much strain is put on available water supplies. Resettlement schemes also cause the migration of people, who might be forced to move into marginal areas where further pressure is put on the available water supply. It is in recognition of the adverse effects of large dams on the environment in general and on water supply in particular that some pressure groups, such as the International Commission on Large Dams, were formed to monitor the construction of dams worldwide.

Actions to address the problems caused by dams have met with limited success. The National Master Plan for Water and Sanitation in Zimbabwe, for example, commissioned a special study for which a sedimentation survey of 30 dams was undertaken (Moyo et al. 1993). Furthermore, the Department of Natural Resources put forward a standing requirement that a report outlining the state of the catchment area would have to be produced by the Natural Resources Board before construction of major dams. Unfortunately, none of these bodies have the appropriate methodology, human resources, or equipment to execute such studies. Consequently, most dams are still being constructed without adequate information.

Some pertinent issues related to dams need further research. These include siltation surveys, assessments of impacts on water quantity and quality, and assessments of socioeconomic impacts on the less privileged, especially women, the elderly, and children.

Mining activities

Southern Africa is rich in mineral resources, including gold, copper, coal, iron, and bauxite, and their exploitation plays a dominant role in the economic development of the subregion. In some areas, the history of mining dates back more than 50 years (Moyo et al. 1993). Two methods of mining are commonly employed: opencast and strip.

In Zimbabwe, more than 1 000 small mines have been worked within the last century. The rate of exploitation is high, and some experts have predicted that known gold and copper ore deposits, estimated at 0.6 x 106 t, would be exhausted, at present rates, within 10 years. About 3 x 106 t of coal per year is mined at Hurange, and the estimated reserves are enormous, ranging from 4 x 109 to more than 20 x 109 t. Similarly, in Zambia, decades of intensive copper exploitation in the copperbelt have created a barren and unproductive landscape. Mining is carried out both by small mining cooperatives and by transnational companies like Rio Tinto Zinc, Lonrho, Anglo-American Corporation, and Union Carbide.

Mining activities have adverse consequences on water supply and the environment because the mining process involves the use of large quantities of water in jets to remove the overburden and wash the mineral ore. In the copperbelt, for example, the mined ore is crushed and milled with water to a very fine particle size. Chemicals are added to the pulp, which is then agitated with air in tanks (Moyo et al. 1993). Wastewater is discharged into nearby watercourses, thereby posing a serious danger of water pollution. Thus, the mining industry has the potential to cause destruction of the watershed, subsidence of land, and disruption of the hydrological balance. Studies undertaken in Zambia have shown that polluted water was responsible for the deaths of livestock in the copperbelt and that the copper content in the affected rivers was on average about 80 times higher than the acceptable level.

Although the mining industry certainly affects the supply and demand for water and puts strain on the available water resources, action to reduce the impacts of mining have been limited. Several acts on the statute book in Zimbabwe attempt to control the environmental damage caused by mining. These include the Hazardous Substances and Particles Act and the Atmospheric Pollution Prevention Act. The Mines and Minerals Act, however, overrides most other acts, and very few restrictions are attached to the exploitation of mining rights after a mining permit has been obtained. This makes enforcement difficult and leaves the way open for negative impacts. Consequently, there has been little or no action by mining companies in the region to rehabilitate degraded landscapes.

Future action, particularly from the point of view of research, should focus on quality monitoring to establish the possible human health effects of using contaminated water. There is also a need to investigate the impacts of mining on underground water.

Water supply and demand

Against the background of declining supply and rising demand, water availability in southern Africa is a critical issue. In examining the supply and demand situation, I shall highlight the total amount of water required by the agriculture, domestic, industry and mining, and tourism sectors.

Per capita availability of freshwater

Zimbabwe’s Financial Gazette of 16 December 1993 contained the following item on the current global water-supply situation:

While the amount of water in our rivers and streams catered for the population a decade ago, the time is rapidly approaching when we simply have too little of it for everyone to utilize. Water is money. Until people think of water in the same terms as money, we are headed for disaster. In the end, unless we change our way of thinking, water will be a far more emotive issue than land.

This statement aptly describes the prevailing situation in southern Africa. Available data already indicate that the annual per capita availability of freshwater declined significantly from about 2 x 10 4 m 3 in 1950 to about 1 x 10 4 m 3 in 1980 (IDRC 1994). In theory, sufficient water is available to meet demand, but it is unevenly distributed in time and space (Moyo et al. 1993). In Zimbabwe, the current water-consumption levels for the various sectors show that most water is consumed in urban areas and on commercial farms; the communal areas account for a smaller proportion.

Some attempts have been made to quantify the water demand. The CMMU of the DWA in Zambia has carried out field studies to determine per capita water demand (Carty 1994). Based on observations made by various project personnel, CMMU has established a per capita requirement of 20 L/d in rural areas. This is considered “adequate” in the context of current practices, but this is not to say that the amount will not increase in future. Rather, 20 L/d is considered the minimum adequate amount when the actual availability of rural supply is taken into account, given current practices and traditions. The requirement in urban areas is double that of rural areas. Using the UN -established per capita requirement of 40 L/d for urban residents, I calculated a 30 L/d average requirement. Based on this figure, it should be possible to estimate the daily water requirement in the population. It should also be possible to project future water requirements in any given year.

According to Grizic (1980), the annual surface-water flow available for use in Zimbabwe is 80 x 10 9 m³. If this quantity is fully utilized, it would suffice for a population two to three times greater than that of 1990, even allowing for a doubling in per capita consumption. Thus, total hypothetical availability should not become a serious constraint for at least 30 years, by which time improved pumping technology, repurification of urban water, and more economic irrigation methods should have become more widely used.

This estimate essentially suggests that the available water in absolute terms has the capacity to satisfy requirements at the current level and even the potential to meet future rise in demand. Nevertheless, issues such as management problems, pollution, and degradation of water resources do not appear to have been considered. Certainly, these factors seem to account for the inability of water authorities to meet current demand.

In some countries of the subregion, the responsibility for providing water is shared by several institutions and government departments. In Zambia, seven ministries, departments, and local authorities share responsibility for water. Some of them are concerned with policy formulation, and others deal with actual delivery of services to consumers (Chiwala 1994).

A similar institutional arrangement exists in Zimbabwe, where two authorities are responsible for the provision of water: the Department of Water Development (DWD); and the District Development Fund (DDF) in the Ministry of Local Government, Rural and Urban Development. DWD is in charge of hydrogeological surveys, including construction of large dams, whereas DDF is in charge of the construction of small- and medium-scale dams and deep wells. Shallow wells are under jurisdiction of the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare. Both DWD and DDF undertake the siting and sinking of boreholes in designated areas; however, maintenance is done by DDF.


Sectorally, agriculture is the biggest water consumer. Commercial agriculture is largely responsible because it uses large-scale irrigation systems. Because southern Africa lies in a region that receives inadequate rainfall to support large-scale rainfed crop production, irrigation provides the only alternative method of sustaining the agricultural system. As noted, almost 90% of the total water impounded in dams is used for agricultural purposes. This represents a gross overallocation of a critical resource and calls for a review of the water-allocation strategy employed in the region to ensure that the other sectors get a fair share of available water supplies.


Water demand for domestic uses has grown steadily in proportion to population growth. Access to clean water for domestic purposes, such as drinking, cooking, washing, personal and environmental cleansing, and sanitation, is constrained by management problems. Consequently, demand does not match the supply.

Industry and mining

The industrial and mining sectors together share about 5% of the available water supply. Although the region’s industrial sector is not yet well developed, the mining industry is a major force in the economic development of the countries. The types of industries, together with the production process, determine the extent to which water is used. Generally, most of the industries are agriculturally based and include food processing, canneries, textiles, and breweries. More than 80% of the water used in these industries is used for cleansing, rather than for the actual manufacturing process. In the case of mining, water is used in opencast mining and in washing the mineral ore before it is processed.


Tourism, a growing industry in the region, also involves on-site use of water. Kariba Dam (the largest engineered water reservoir in Africa), Livingstone Falls, Lake Victoria, and the Okavango River are important tourist centres. The extent of tourist activity in these areas depends especially on the preservation of the natural environment.

Management actions

Many water-resource programs and projects have been proposed in the region to cope with water stress and water demand and at the same time to protect and improve the quality of the environment. Some of these have already been completed or are ongoing.

Community level

Two case studies, one from Zambia and the other from Zimbabwe, illustrate community action in water-resource management.

The Kanyama water project (Zambia)

The Kanyama community is a squatter settlement within Lusaka. Before the Kanyama water project was initiated in 1988, residents depended on water wells and they felt that the city council should provide them with piped water. Subsequently, the council was approached with the proposal, but it had no funds. At this juncture, Human Settlements of Zambia (HUZA), an NGO, took up the challenge because Kanyama was an area that needed upgrading (Chitondo 1991). WaterAid- UK provided funds to HUZA, and the project started in 1987 and was completed in 1989. Project planning was done jointly by the community leaders of Kanyama, HUZA personnel, and the staff of Lusaka Urban District Council. Implementation was undertaken entirely by the residents themselves, with HUZA playing only a coordinating role. On a self-help basis, the community also moulded concrete blocks for building a wall around the borehole site, with staff from the NGO providing technical advice. HUZA provided the community with instructions for guarding and maintaining the project. Other actors in this project were the Zambia Electricity Corporation, which installed the transformer, and the Lusaka Water and Sewage Company, which took over the maintenance. It was expected that the project would provide a permanent solution to the problem of water supply in the community. Indeed, this expectation has been realized, and the community now has a regular water supply.

The Chisvoteso water project (Zimbabwe)

The Chisvoteso water project dates to 1984, when the community of Seke decided to embark on a water project as part of a large vegetable-growing project. The objective was to provide enough water for domestic consumption and for watering gardens and fruit trees that were intended to generate income (Mashongamhende 1991).

The project was initiated by the Association of Women Clubs (AWC). In 1987, further assistance came from Africare and Environment Liaison Centre International, through AWC, which enabled the women to sink a well and install a handpump. Implementation of the project was accomplished primarily by the women themselves, with assistance from AWC staff in technical areas.

The project was successfully completed in 1987. The well has made it possible for project members to grow vegetables intensively the year round and raise their family incomes and living standards. Now other provinces in Zimbabwe are benefiting from this experience and embarking on similar projects.

National level

Most governments in the region have made little progress in developing concrete programs to address critical problems in water-resource management. Water-resource management is undertaken by various ministries and departments, often in an uncoordinated manner, leading to duplication of effort and total neglect of some aspects of the environment. Nevertheless, some national programs in this sector are being initiated, as is illustrated by Zambia and Malawi.

Government effort to improve sector performance (Zambia)

Recognizing the need to achieve long-term improvements in the performance of the water-supply and sanitation sector and improve its attractiveness for foreign investments, the Zambian government set up an interministerial committee, the Programme Coordination Unit (PCU), in 1993. The PCU comprises all institutions involved in the provision of water-supply and sanitation services (Chiwala 1994).

PCU is a policy-making body that targets the entire water sector. Its main objective is to advise government on the reorganization of the water-supply and sanitation sector. Its tasks include

· recommending policy reforms for the water-supply and sanitation sector;

· defining the responsibilities of ministries and organizations in the water-supply and sanitation sector;

· determining and recommending necessary reforms and reorganization of the sector;

· proposing the creation of a framework for planning, development, operation, and maintenance of the infrastructure in the water-supply and sanitation sector, to encourage and optimize donor support; and

· proposing reforms to strengthen various institutions with responsibilities in the water-supply and sanitation sector.

PCU, through its executive arm, the Water Sector Development Group, produced a policy document on water-sector reorganization, which went before Parliament for approval. Future proposals for the water sector are

· transformation of PCU into the National Water and Sanitation Council; and

· creation of council-owned regional companies to assist councils in the delivery of water to peri-urban and rural areas, in collaboration with the Ministry of Local Government and Housing.

The Zambian initiative represents a step in the right direction. It has the potential to improve the water supply and address other issues in the water sector. However, the approach lacks public participation, and PCU failed to link grass-roots concerns to technical expertise in its development of a national plan.

Institutional arrangement for water management (Malawi)

Development action programs in Malawi are arranged in line with the Malawi Congress Party’s political structure. Development area committees oversee and supervise the planning and implementation of various development projects, including water. They are organized according to the political administrative division of the country, as outlined by Moyo et al. (1993):

· The National Development Committee, chaired by the President or a representative, reviews national development programs.

· The three regional development committees (one in each region), chaired by regional administrators, prepare and review development programs that have a regional impact.

· The 24 district development committees (one in each district), each chaired by a district commissioner and with representatives drawn from economic sectors in that district, discuss development issues affecting their district.

· The 192 area action groups represent traditional authorities, who chair the meetings and supervise any projects arising from them.

· Village action groups are found in each village. Village headmen chair the meetings and supervise any development activity arising from them.

The Malawi structure is a policy arrangement designed to enhance water supply and manage demand from the village level. The broad-based approach is desirable for grass-roots contribution to water development and has the potential to improve water supply if bureaucratic bottlenecks are removed. There is also a need to create water subcommittees at the various levels to give closer attention to critical water-resource issues in the country.

Regional level

There are several water-resource projects in the southern African subregion. These projects include

· Zambezi River System Action Plan (ZACPLAN);

· Regional Hydrological Assessment Project;


· Regional Hydroelectric Hydrological Program (SADC Project);

· Water Resources Planning for SADC (SADC Project);

· SARP region water-sector assessment;

· Southern Africa FRIEND Project; and

· Rationale for Water Sector Capacity Assistance.

Two of these projects are reviewed in the following sections.

Zambezi River System Action Plan

In 1992, the treaty establishing SADC came into force. Before this, a major political challenge facing the countries was managing the international watercourses in an integrated manner to avoid conflicting interests. Integrated management comprises all the tasks required to provide water of acceptable quantity and quality to satisfy the needs of all users in an environmentally and economically sustainable manner. This approach is deemed to ensure optimal use of water resources for economic and social development. Against this background the various regional water-resource action programs were mapped out under the framework of SADC.

The overall target of ZACPLAN is to ensure that the shared resources of the Zambezi River are used in a manner that guarantees maximum long-term advantages to all participating states. The plan, adopted by SADC in 1987, consists of 19 projects (ZACPROS). Category 1 projects are selected for immediate implementation as a matter of priority. Eight such projects were elaborated and presented for funding in 1989. The specific objectives and targets of ZACPROS are to

· create an inventory of existing and potential development projects, evaluate the environmental impact of major projects, and initiate a basin-wide information exchange;

· develop regional legislation necessary for the management of the Zambezi and minimum national legislation required by riparian states for enforcement;

· develop a basin-wide unified monitoring system related to water quality and quantity;

· develop an integrated water-resource-management plan for the Zambezi River basin, create a relevant water-quality and water-quantity database, and review all sectors that benefit from or affect water-resource development projects in the basin; and

· develop and adopt a management simulation model, simulate the various development scenarios in the basin, and present an integrated water-resource-management plan.

The SADC Environment and Land Management Sector (ELMS) was entrusted with executing and coordinating the program, assisted by a committee representing all member states. This later became the ELMS Water Resources Subcommittee, responsible for advising ELMS on regional water resources issues.

The ZACPLAN constitutes a pragmatic action plan that could address critical transboundary water-resource issues for the Zambezi River basin. It must be pointed out, however, that to succeed the scheme must seek and join the concerns of riparian communities in the plan and safeguard against political interest.

It is too early to evaluate the success of ZACPROS because the time from adoption to funding and implementation has been short. Moreover, more than half of the projects have not been elaborated or funded. Nevertheless, with the spate of reorganization and coordinated action taking place between the countries in the region, there is indication that the mandate of ZACPROS could be fulfilled.

SARP region water sector assessment

The SARP region water sector assessment was initiated by SADC and funded by USAID. It covers the SADC countries, including South Africa and Zaire. Like ZACPROS, the SARP project was adopted in 1987. However, no definite time frame was set for its implementation.

The objective of the scheme is to determine the organizational structures that exist within the southern African region and to consider how water resources can be effectively coordinated on a regional, as opposed to national, basis. Phase I will gather information on all existing major water-resource schemes in the countries and identify all ministries, agencies, authorities, and donors involved, with emphasis on regional institutions. Phase II will evaluate the information and recommend interventions in infrastructure and institutional development that would foster regional water-resource sharing and development. It will also identify possible infrastructure development projects that might be considered by the regional water entities.

Current institutional reorganization in the water sector in many countries in the region conforms with the intended actions of this project. A similar institutional setup is also desirable at the community level. A well-coordinated institutional framework could enhance the further development of water-supply infrastructure in the region.


Based on the information gathered and the analysis in this paper, it is certain that the major freshwater sources in the region are under stress from a number of factors. These include drought, rising population, pollution from industries, and mismanagement leading to wastage. The current and projected water demand is on the increase, and there are calls for action from all concerned. Several actions are being proposed, others are ongoing, and some have been completed at community, national, and regional levels to cope with the stress and meet rising demand.

However, improving the quality and quantity of the water supply to meet rising demand is still a major problem facing the region and is likely to remain so in the future. Holmberg et al. (1991) and Moyo et al. (1991, 1993) proposed three basic options:

· reallocate available water to meet new emerging demands;

· increase supplies by tapping additional groundwater, building dams, or transferring water from surplus to deficit areas; or

· stretch supplies through conservation, recycling, more efficient use and pricing policies.

The first option is the subject of review under the new water-sector master plans being developed by the various governments and, at the regional level, under the water-resources agenda of SADC.

The second option provides an obvious alternative. It would involve an inventory of water resources, not previously fully undertaken in the countries, particularly for groundwater. Adequate management of water resources might only be possible if data are obtained on available water stocks. In the case of building dams, a number of constraints, such as the adverse effects of dams on the environment and the low status of most user populations should be considered. Interbasin water transfer is often a cost-effective venture and is currently being done in western Zimbabwe.

The third option, although widely advocated, would present problems, notably to large-scale commercial irrigators. This approach would, however, be beneficial to communal farmers, as they are known to face problems of soil degradation and erosion, which cause loss of topsoil and blockage of streams through siltation.

Based on the analysis, additional options are as follows:

· The development of efficient rainwater-harvesting systems and storage of runoff floodwater could easily be adopted at the family and community levels. These projects would involve construction of medium- to large-scale water reservoirs, including earth dams to store floodwater within a catchment area during rainstorms. This option is desirable because an estimated 20 x 10 9 m 3 out of 2279 of storm runoff generated in the region reaches the rivers (Holmberg et al. 1991). If harnessed, this runoff could provide short-term relief to several communities.

· Desalinization of seawater, although expensive, might be a last resort. It would provide a lasting solution, because use would be made of the oceans surrounding the region.

Research opportunities

Proposed research programs in the water sector are based on the identified sources of stress. The main research questions that should be addressed are presented here:

1.dertake a comprehensive field survey of boreholes and determine the stock of surface water and groundwater to develop a basis for future planning and allocation of water for different uses.

2.cument drought incidents, trends, and impact and identify long-term strategies, including early-warning systems, to cope with the phenomenon of drought.

3.termine the relationship between drought and soil erosion, the rate of sedimentation and siltation and the impact on dams, and the role of human activities in generating soil erosion.

4.aluate the population-carrying capacities of the water systems and the effects of migration, paying special attention to water as a critical resource.

5.sess the impact of pollution on humans and livestock and of soil acidity on plants. A systematic program to monitor water quality and quantity is required to improve the collection and management of hydrological data.

6.sess the relationship between farm-water drainage and eutrophication.

7.mpare the extent of water loss through open-channel irrigation with that through other methods, such as drip and sprinkler irrigation. Furthermore, the groundwater-recharge potentials in areas under irrigation should be explored.

8.rry out siltation surveys, assessments of the impacts of dams on water quantity and quality, and assessments of the socioeconomic impacts on the vulnerable groups, especially women, children, and the elderly.

9.nitor the impact of mine-water drainage on public health and the environment. Investigate the impacts of mining on groundwater reserves after the application of strip-mining methods.


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