FR EN ES Search
  1. Home
  2. Past Events
  3. Uncertain access to water in Zimbabwe


All the news

Uncertain access to water in Zimbabwe

Buwalayo (Source Chronicle)

In Zimbabwe, the end of 2020 was marked by new water shortages. Between ageing or non-existent infrastructures and political and economic problems, the country is struggling to find solutions. A challenge that nonetheless has to be overcome.


Water shortage in the country’s second largest

At the end of 2020, the inhabitants of Bulawayo, the country’s second largest city, were faced with a desperate situation following a severe drought. The restrictions imposed throughout the country by the authorities, had disastrous impacts on several communities. According to the online journal, New Zimbabwe, part of the suburbs of Bulawayo had no running water for a whole year. Forced to drink unhealthy water, the residents witnessed the resurgence of waterborne diseases. The health services of the municipality registered 2,600 cases of diarrhoea between June and October 2020, mostly affecting children under five years old. This situation was especially worrying since it undermined the combat against Covid-19. The director of the city’s health services, Edwin Sibanda, declared his dismay to the Guardian:

“The precautions for diarrhoea are the same as those for Covid-19. How do you tell people to wash their hands when there is no water?”.

An old scourge in a vulnerable country


October 2019 © 2020 AP Photo Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi (Source Human Rights Watch)

The beginning of the year saw heavy rainfall that filled the country’s reservoirs, good news that leads to water returning to Bulawayo, aided by a policy to normalise the water supply. In mid-February, the mayor announced deliveries of water 4 times a week and the total suspension of restrictions is expected at the end of March. Nonetheless, the heavy rainfall allows only a short period of relief. Frequent water shortages have existed for a long time. In 2019, the inhabitants of Harare, the capital, queued to fill their jerry cans with water. The situation was no better in the countryside.

The conclusions of the World Food Programme in June of the same year indicated that the drought had placed a third of the country’s rural households (i.e. about 3.5 million people) in a situation of food insecurity. Zimbabwe relies for the most part on low production agricultural methods dependant on rainwater, making its production vulnerable to variations. The recurrences of water and food shortages are also due to political and economic problems.


Structural problems to be overcome


The regime of Robert Mugabe, which ended in 2017, left the country in a state of uncertainty. Inflation, unemployment and economic instability were mining society and the public authorities, and affecting the quality of the country’s infrastructures. The shortage of drinking water that the capital suffered in 2019 was aggravated by the financial incapacity of the only water treatment plant to procure chemical products. Confronted by successive ordeals, the Zimbabweans became more resilient, a precious asset and an aspect emphasised by the World Food Program.

These people think out of the box to survive. They have that innate capability to be able to withstand these types of shocks and find a way to get around them.”

However, concrete changes are necessary to cope with the deterioration of water resources. At the end of 2020 a report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) unerlined the 20% fall in the quantity of freshwater available per person in two decades. Agriculture is vital for Zimbabwe, and supplies of water and food are two of its biggest challenges. Several voices are calling for investments to equip the country with infrastructures for water supplies, irrigation and dams.

Dam of Gwayi-Shangani in construction (Source Bulawayo 24News)

A report by the World Bank, published the same year, encouraged the government to take this direction, to innovate, and diversify its production systems. Harare has launched renovation works throughout the country. Regarding Bulawayo, $4.5 billion have been committed to the Gwayi-Shangani dam project that will be built in parallel with an oil pipeline, to bring the water to the city. As for the African Development Bank (ADB), it has invested in wastewater treatment projects.


The task of ensuring that Zimbabweans have access to decent water and that irrigation is ensured for their crops remains huge, but at least it has begun.

Mettez à jour votre navigateur pour consulter ce site