GOVERNMENT delays in the construction and completion of large dams has left a lot to be desired and in some cases this has allowed people to settle on planned dam sites.
BY TONDERAYI MATONHO
Observers have noted that the huge demand for land has forced many people in rural areas to settle at dam sites in search of homes.
“What people need now is simply more water. With such delays, villagers or new settlers have no choice but they simply settle on the long-planned dam sites for lack of land to build houses or develop their farming plots,”
said Diego Machamire, a delegate at a recent water resources infrastructure development and investment conference in Harare, said.
Experts note that with funding levels and opportunities rising, the positive impact of dam construction and irrigation projects in general, lie behind increasing levels of investment in this sector.
Zimbabwe ranks as the second country with most dams in Africa after South Africa, with 10 000 large, medium and small dams.
At the recent water resources infrastructure and investment conference, President Emmerson Mnangagwa also observed that “the country has vast potential for the construction of yet more large dams and even more so a potential for the export of water to neighbouring countries experiencing water scarcity”.
However, observers feel this could be far-fetched considering that the country itself is suffering from severe water scarcity due to improper and inadequate utilisation of the current large dams, with some yet to be completed.
Gwayi-Tshangani Dam in Matabeleland North, Marovanyati Dam in Manicaland and Kunzvi Dam in Mashonaland East, for example, are indicative of the government’s now common delays in completing large dam projects that would ensure universal access to water.
In September 2016, Zimbabwe joined other United Nations member states in committing itself to ensuring universal access to water and sanitation as espoused in Goal 6 of the Agenda for Sustainable Development.
At the recent water conference, representatives of the African Development Bank and the World Bank (WB), both declared their interest in investing in local water resources infrastructure development and this would also help lower costs of irrigation projects, currently higher in the country.
“We are ready to make Investments in dam development and also meet irrigation needs and we believe their viability will depend on several factors such as better use of geographical, hydrological and topographical data; use of local materials, local planning of irrigation projects, encouraging local qualified enterprises, selection of nearest and most competent suppliers of the required level of service”, said the WB representative.
In his presentation at the water conference, chief executive officer of the Zimbabwe Institute of Engineers, Steve Diarra, said: “There are plenty of trained engineers in Zimbabwe for planning, managing sites and suppliers of services and materials, but unfortunately many of these are now working in the Diaspora and given the new dispensation many of them can be lured home again, given better and improved policies”.
In Africa, 95% of agriculture is rain-fed, but this type of agriculture, say experts, is not going to be able to meet growing needs for food.
Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), has warned that if current and planned programmes are slowed down, then millions of farmers will set up unsustainable systems of cultivation in arid zones or even on delayed dam construction sites and this would lead to destructive land use patterns.
Experts also note that current progress in Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), remote-sensing by satellite and research will make it possible now and in the future to better measure water resources and needs, and thus better design and manage hydro works.
“Sustainable development means looking and harnessing all these factors and amongst all other considerations, finding a balance between the exploitation of water resources, and environmental factors”, said development economist, Masimba Manyanya.
In addition, Manyanya, said for example, ICTs and remote-sensing by satellite help certain flows of water to be maintained in a river, for the sake of the health of the river and associated ecosystems, which are always endangered by the concentration of pollutants when water levels drop.
Other aspects to be integrated in dam development projects are the protection of the upper reaches of rivers which is the source of much of the water flow and the essential role played by water catchment areas, especially in high, upstream areas, according to experts.
“There are several ways to minimise damage to them such as reforestation in the higher areas which will slow down floods, better control of human activities will reduce damage to catchment areas, and a fair share of gains and losses between upstream and downstream,” said Joseph Tasosa, biodiversity conservation and management expert.
“In fact, the total amount of water in a catchment area, both surface and groundwater, should be seen as one overall resource of value to downstream and upstream areas.”
The FAO has stated that catchment area authorities should be empowered to properly apply rule of best practice, which would result in less need to store water, more available groundwater, and less risk of flooding and sedimentation.
At present, between 50 and 70 million hectares of irrigated land in the world are subject to silting and salinity, according to FAO.
This extent of land degradation could be halted and reversed through improved irrigation techniques such as building filtered drainage networks, washing away salt deposits in the soil and through land tenure measures which make soil improvements possible.
Experts note that there is considerable experience and investment opportunities in the water resources sector in this country, provided the government is prepared to put in place policy measures to support development and completion in time of infrastructures such as large dams.
When combined with sensible macro-economic reforms, the experience and opportunities will definitely open up new horizons full of tangible promises for efficient exploitation of the country’s waters.