When water experts warned at the turn of the millennium that soon wars will be fought not over oil anymore but over water, little did Zimbabweans know that they would be some of the first people affected by this dire prediction.
There is increasing competition for water due to a combination of numerous environmental and political factors, including climate change, poor local planning and lack of adequate financial and material resources to bring running water to poor communities.
In rural Zimbabwe, lack of clean water has become a reality for many communities, in addition to other hardships, such as food shortages, insufficient health services and lack of sanitation.
[...] According to Justice for Agriculture (JAG), a unit set up by the Commercial Farmers of Zimbabwe (CFZ), an organisation that represents the legal interests of dispossessed farmers, wells have dried up throughout the country and no efforts have been made to drill more boreholes to provide water to both humans and livestock.
[...] In Plumtree, a poor, drought-prone rural community located about 160 kilometres southwest of Zimbabwe‚s second largest city, Bulawayo, a hostile fight has broken out between neighbouring communities around access to the few remaining water sources. [R]esidents from the Botswana side of the river have claimed parts of the river as their own, threatening those from the Zimbabwean side with assault if they come to fetch water.
What has heightened tensions even further. Out of desperation, villagers have started to bring their livestock to drink from the river too, as there is no alternative water source for animals.
“The Batswana say we must not bring our livestock here, but we cannot let our cattle die in this heat,” local resident Thabiso Mkwena said.
Letting livestock drink from the same water source as humans has exposed locals to a number of water-borne diseases. Earlier this year, medical staff at the public hospital in Plumtree reported an outbreak of diarrhoea caused by contaminated drinking water.
In Plumtree, not only the river has dried up. Water provision inside the village is scarce as well. As a result, residents are increasingly reluctant to share the little water they have.
Missing water MDG
It is unlikely that Zimbabwe will reach Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target for water.
Although worst in rural areas, water shortages affect the entire country. According to residents associations Combined Harare Residents Association (CHRA) and Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association (BUPRA), urban residents have to live with irregular supply of clean drinking water.
In Bulawayo, for example, residents say they go for up to two days without running water, and when the taps are turned back on, the water is not safe to drink because it has not been purified.
To improve this situation, government officials signed an agreement with UNESCO, the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Institute of Water and Sanitation Development in May 2009 to mobilise funds to supply clean water and sanitation in a country faced by drastic economic recession.
But five months later, the agreement is yet to be implemented.
James Fuyane, chief water technician at the Plumtree Rural District Council said that poor water management was mainly caused by lack of financial resources and management.
Source: Ignatius Banda, IPS, 16 Oct 2009