Towards addressing the plight of rural communities in accessing water abstraction permits for productive uses

Towards addressing the plight of rural communities in accessing water abstraction permits for productive uses

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Rural communities are faced with numerous challenges related to access to water for potable and productive uses. Rural residents, especially young women and girls, spend quite a significant amount of their productive time looking for water. In some cases, rural communities collect potable water from unprotected and unsafe sources. The situation has been exacerbated by the high frequencies and magnitudes of agricultural droughts in Zimbabwe which are on the increase. It is however disturbing to note that some of the rural communities face challenges in accessing water despite having inland reservoirs almost full or over spilling. It therefore becomes necessary to empower the rural youth with knowledge and information they can use to lobby and advocate for equity in water allocation in such catchments that have dams or lakes.

Nearly two decades after Zimbabwe attained its independence in 1980, the Government of Zimbabwe passed two pieces of legislation to guide water sector reform. These two pieces of legislation were namely the Water Act (Chapter 20:24) and the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (ZINWA) Act (Chapter 20:25).The Water Act provided guidelines for the development and utilisation of water resources while the ZINWA Act provides for the establishment of a national water authority and its functions. Basically, there are two drivers that brought about these two pieces of legislation into effect. The first one being the increasing global pressure for the need to efficiently and sustainably manage the precious, vulnerable and scarce water resources. The second driver being lack of flexibility in the legislation to accommodate other intending water users applying for water rights the opportunity to access water. This was so because the available water had already been allocated to other users, especially commercial farmers, mainly because the 1976 Water Act was inclined towards protecting the interests of commercial farmers who constituted less than 1% of the Zimbabwean population. Therefore the water sector reform sought to achieve three broad principles, namely, equity in water resources allocation, efficiency and sustainability in water resources utilization.

In that regard, the Water Act (Chapter 20:24) provided for stakeholder participation as it was viewed as a critical ingredient towards the achievement of equity in water allocation. The Act also provided for the establishment of Catchment Councils in respect of an area of a river system. The establishment of Catchment Councils brought about decentralisation of issuance of water permits from the Administrative Court in Harare. This was a welcome development as it eases access and opportunity for communities to participate in water resources management within their river catchments.

However, the reality on the ground is that there is very limited stakeholder participation, especially the rural communities, in water management despite the presence of adequate supportive structures and organisations. The Zimbabwe National Water Authority (ZINWA) and catchment councils view stakeholders as the paying permit holders only thereby neglecting one critical stakeholder, the rural communities, within the catchments and sub catchments. There is therefore limited and no representation of these rural communities in Catchment and Sub Catchment Councils. This largely deprives the rural communities the right to equitable allocation of the available water resources for primary and productive uses. Section 23(1) of the Water Act (Chapter 20:24) stipulates that water permits must be granted to individuals who demonstrate that they have suitable land for irrigation and have financial means to install irrigation facilities.

Resultantly, water resources permits allocation is still attached to land ownership thereby depriving and limiting the rural communities’ access to water because they do not own land.
The enactment of the Zimbabwe Amendment (No. 20) Act in 2013 which provides for the right to water and food under Chapter 4 Section 77 read together with the provisions of the Water Act (Chapter 20:24) on stakeholder participation in water resources management and equity in allocation of the available water resources in a catchment or sub catchment area, is a welcome development for rural communities in such catchments. These provisions give enabling avenues for rural communities in such catchments to organize themselves and their communities, if empowered with legislative provisions, to lobby and advocate for the establishment of community schemes that can apply for water permits unattached to land ownership and bargain for irrigation and other productive uses they deem viable mainly looking at the equity in water resources allocation principle. In addition, legislative reform to address such hindrances to water permit allocation to rural communities could also be initiated. It goes without saying that empowered rural communities can establish structures that continuously assess and report the water resources management practices obtaining in their communities to effect positive citizens responsibility towards the steward of the scarce available freshwater resources.

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