Bulawayo Water Crisis Requires U.S.$3,5 Billion

An estimated US$3,5 billion is needed to link Bulawayo to the Zambezi River — a long running project touted as a panacea to the second largest city’s perennial water shortages.

This was revealed by Matabeleland Zambezi Water Trust responsible for the Matabeleland Zambezi Water Project (MZWP).

Bulawayo is battling continuous water problems due to increased population growth versus few dams and recurring droughts.

The residents are subjected to a strict water rationing regime with those in the high density suburbs receiving potable water only once a week. Some suburbs have gone for a year without running water.

MZWP was mooted back in 1912 during the colonial era and was inherited by the Zimbabwe government in 1980 but little progress has been registered this far.

Finance and Economic Development minister Mthuli Ncube, in the 2021 national budget, allocated Z$4,5 billion towards the Gwayi-Shangani Dam. It remains to be seen if the government will be able to channel the necessary resources for the dam completion.

MZWT chief executive officer Sarah Ndhlovu said while construction works were underway, more funds were required.

“We believe that to link Bulawayo and the Zambezi would cost between US$3 billion and US$3,5 billion.

Approximately US$200 million of that would be needed for the Gwayi-Shangani Dam construction,” Ndhlovu said.

“Construction of the dam may be completed within two or so years. We believe that within five years, the rest of the scheme linking the Zambezi to Bulawayo could be completed.

It is possible for most Zambezi riparian countries to participate in funds mobilisation. South Africa may also take a keen interest to tap water from the Matabeleland water scheme.”

The US$3,5 billion is expected to cover dam construction, the pipeline from Gwayi-Shangani Dam to Bulawayo, the pipeline from Zambezi to Gwayi-Shangani Dam, pumping stations, break pressure reservoirs and water treatment works.

Part of the funds would be used to link business centres dotted around Matabeleland.

Ndhlovu bemoaned lack of political will in the implementation of the massive water project.

However, there has been more developmental support on Mtshabezi Dam in Matabeleland South and aquifers in Nyamandlovu, north of the city.

“Mtshabezi is in Matabeleland South as well as other older dams which supply Bulawayo but the problem is that this region is susceptible to intermittent droughts.

The aquifer yields are low and cannot sustain rapid development. This approach has been clouded by the slow population growth of Bulawayo, de-industrialisation and an economic downturn which led to people migrating from the region to other areas in the country and to the diaspora,” Ndhlovu said.

“Therefore, economic evaluation of the project based on current population levels and industrial/commercial activities tend not to favour the development of the scheme yet it is clear that the problems plaguing the city and the region are partly, if not largely, caused by the unavailability of water.”

She said some industries had over the years been forced to relocate from Bulawayo due to water shortages, abandoning factories and warehouses which have turned into white elephants.

“It is this bigger picture that MZWT wants to address by pumping in water from the Zambezi. Use of smaller water sources such as Mtshabezi Dam and Nyamandlovu aquifer is nothing but tinkering with the problem,” Ndhlovu said.

“It’s time for political leaders and stakeholders to close ranks and agree on development priorities. It is unfortunate that some people, organisations and politicians instead of focusing on the development see a golden opportunity for self-aggrandisement.”

The MZWT CEO said recurring droughts that hit southern Africa in recent years, were a clarion call for regional cooperation to solve water shortages.

Instead of looking to funders in the East and West with a begging bowl, she said, the region should consider investing its own resources.

“Funders from the East and West may be brought in as partners for strategic and technology transfer purposes,” Ndhlovu said.

“Stakeholders have learnt a lot from the recent past that management of water is a key part of the energy and food nexus. We believe that major stakeholders share the blame but more importantly, they are keen to move forward.”

She said the development of water projects on international waters should be developed with a regional perspective to address not only water needs but energy and food security.

Recently, Matabeleland North Provincial Affairs minister Richard Moyo said the Gwayi-Shangani Dam project was 40% complete and was expected to be fully completed by year-end.

MZWT chairman Richard Ndlovu attributed project delays to lack of funding.

The construction of Gwayi-Shangani Dam started in 2004 but progress has been lethargic due to funding problems.

Cabinet approved the Zambezi water pipeline project in March 1997 and the mandate was given to MZWT and the then Ministry of Water and Local Government to implement the project.

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