Water Wars Hit Rural Zimbabwe

Water Wars Hit Rural Zimbabwe

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.

Poor rains and government’s failure to provide adequate resources to reduce water scarcity -- including skilled water experts, fuel for field technicians to reach remote areas, drilling machines to make boreholes and water purification chemicals -- have worsened water woes.

After president Robert Mugabe embarked on a violent land reform programme, expropriating white-owned commercial farms in 2000, new farm owners have done little to maintain the infrastructure and facilities they inherited when taking over farms, including water systems and irrigation dams.

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.

This is particularly significant since such infrastructure used to provide water for the surrounding communities as well as the farms.


For one rural community, buried deep in the tropical forests between two southern African countries, Zimbabwe and Botswana, the water plight has been particularly harsh when their main water source, a river running between the two countries, almost dried up.

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.

The Ramakgoebana River has become a major source of conflict for villagers from both sides of the border, Thabiso Mkwena, a 36-year-old man who lives in Tshitshi, near Plumtree, told IPS. "This is a dry area and we have to walk for many kilometres to the fast-drying river. This has led to disputes with villagers from the other side of the river who are accusing us of finishing the water," said Mkwena.

He said residents 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, Mkwena explained, is that 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," 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.


Zimbabwe National Water Authority Petitioned to Reverse Takeover

Why is the answer for governments always privitization that has proven to only worsen the problem? Easy: GREED. They don't care if their people die from lack of water or poisoned water as long as they make profit off of it. This is the biggest reason for the growing scope of this crisis: Political upheaval, corruption and greed, which leads to inadequate infrastructure, pollution, and mismanagement, which leads to privitization. And in places where people are too poor to fight back it is a recipe for water wars.

And now that drought has gripped this land water is an even more crucical resource. Governments that do not take proper steps to fairly distribute water to all families as wel; as providing for its clean up in this region should be penalized by fine that comes out of their pockets. Their people drink toxic water with no food living on less than a $1 a day while they live in fancy houses and wear silk suits! Rationing should also be instituted with government giving back control of the water to local entities that have more knowledge of the problem and can better assess the situation. This too is a moral issue, but I fear as in the case of many other areas of the world experiencing drought it only opens the doors to corruption and privitization which in my opinion in some cases is by design to keep control.

In the case of Zimbabwe, people are going for days without supplies after the national water authority has failed successively to raise cash to buy critically needed water treatment chemicals after some water chemical firms refused to supply the chemicals after the Authority failed to clear outstanding debts. ZINWA owed about 1.5 billion to eight chemical supplying companies as of 2006. This is a stark example of how political corruption has affected water after more than seven years of mismanagement and economic collapse caused by the Mugabe regime. Those living there are now experincing water scarcity to the point that they are forced to drink poison and sewerage laden water as they dig deeper to find a source.

This is also a clear example of what happens when you leave solutions strictly in the hands of politicians without the people having a voice.

From last year:
Zimbabwe's Water Crisis


Humanitarian Crisis In Zimbabwe

We can help by doing what we can to help organizations like Oxfam, Doctors Without Borders, Water Partners International, and other NGOS that are respected organizations that bring resources to these regions. However, just throwing money at the problem is not the silver bullet. People need opportunity and a chance to take control of their own lives with the tools they need to make their communities thrive. To be able to have their own water systems to grow their own food and to be free of corrupt governments looking only to sell off their land and their water to multi nationals for profit.


Walyce Almeida said…
Hi Jan,

I enjoyed your coverage of the water issues in Zimbabwe. I work doing something similar - 1H2O.org. Soon, we are going to publish a story on the water wars in Plumtree, Zimbabwe and Botswana. But we need a photo to go with our story, may we have the permission to use the image above (http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_GqUuXeHog7E/SPjkArFpEeI/AAAAAAAAAiM/3RJjkZJaqg4/s1600-h/Zimbabwe.jpg). Of course, we would give proper credit to you and the photographer if you can provide your names. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me.

Walyce Almeida
1H2O.org Associate Editor
Joseph said…
Just read the interesting material here. I'm the editor of 1h2o.org at the University of Miami I am working with a writer from Zimbabwe about the dispute around Plumtree. I may want to refer to the piece here. Can you pls tell me the full name of the website and the full name of the author of the piece from Plumtree. Can you also tell me the profession of the author? Thank you. Joseph B. Treaster treaster@miami.edu
Jan said…
Ignatius Banda is the author and is a reporter for IPS. He mainly reports on water issues in Zimbabwe. I believe the photo is public domain. Thanks for your comments.