Under the Zambezi Action Plan Project 6.2 (ZACPRO 6.2), the riparian states of the Zambezi Watercourse successfully cooperated to develop and adopt the 2008 IWRM Strategy for the Zambezi River Basin (ZAMSTRAT) thereby establishing a basic strategic thrust for cooperation in the management and development of the water resources of the Zambezi Watercourse. ZAMSTRAT spells out development opportunities, and key challenges that need to be addressed as well as how the riparian states can share the benefits derived from the water resources of the Zambezi river basin in a sustainable and equitable manner. The IWRM Strategy is defined as a set of medium to long term measures in support of integrated water resources management and development. The measures – captured at the strategy level – address the main issues and challenges for the development and management of the water resources of the Zambezi River Basin for the socio-economic development of the basin in particular and the region as a whole.
The IWRM Strategy outlines four key challenge areas the river basin faces and these are:
Integrated and coordinated water resources development
In the Zambezi Basin, ensuring water security is a major challenge in an area characterised by high variability in available water resources. As the Zambezi Basin countries improve their economies to meet the demands for higher social, health and economic well being – to eradicate poverty, and meet MDGs – there will be need to increase the infrastructure necessary to harness and manage the water resources of the region, upon which the envisaged development depends.
More storage dams will be needed (for hydropower, irrigation, water supply and river regulation); other hydraulic structures will equally be needed. The existing dams have been built to serve a single purpose. These dams will need to be operated conjunctively to optimize multiple benefits including power, irrigation and flood control. Future development of water infrastructure would call for integrated development and operation for multi-purposes including safeguarding the integrity of aquatic eco-systems most prevalent in the Basin.
These aspects will call for real Basin-wide cooperation and improved coordination. Funding of water resources development and management will need greater support from governments of the riparian states.
Access to water supply and sanitation is relatively low among the majority of riparian states, and this impacts negatively on health of communities, educational advancement of children (particularly girls), poverty eradication, and sustainability of economic development in general.
Water resources management has to address this particular need for improved access to sustainable water supply and sanitation among the Basin states.
The Zambezi Basin is an area of considerable environmental value – as is clear from the extensive wetlands (many whom, including the Barotse Floodplain, Kafue Flats, and the Zambezi Delta are Ramsar sites), natural and man-made lakes (including Lake Malawi/Nyasa/Niassa, and Lake Kariba) and numerous national parks. What is more, economic growth in the Basin will depend to a large extent on the sustainable use of natural resources. Wetlands are potentially among the most productive ecosystems in the river Basin, providing a wide range of goods and services of local, national and international importance. However, wetlands are also among the most environmentally sensitive areas of the Basin and are often widely degraded. Thus environmental management and sustainable development of the aquatic environment will be a major challenge in the Zambezi Basin.
Water quality in the Basin is also at risk because of increasing discharges from urban, mining and manufacturing centres. Increasing pollution from urban and mining activities is already evident in Upper Kafue Basin (copper mining area of Zambia), and urban and industrial complex in the swathe of territory running from Bulawayo to Harare in Zimbabwe.
The invasion of aquatic weeds (water hyacinth, hippo-grass, red water fern, and mimosa pigra) is already a problem in a number of sub-Basins including the Kafue, Shire, Kariba, Zambezi delta.
Although large parts of the Basin are sparsely populated, the watershed suffers from deforestation and soil degradation because of a high level of dependency on fuelwood and charcoal for cooking, heating, brick and tobacco curing. Overgrazing by livestock and wild animals is reported in a number of areas.
Climate variability, though an established characteristic over the Basin, has taken greater importance lately. There is now compelling evidence of a shift towards a new climate state, characterized by higher temperatures, extremes of rainfall, including shifts in the onset and duration of the rain season, apparent frequency of alternating droughts and flooding.
Floods are probably the most pressing transboundary water management issue for the population living in the Zambezi river Basin. The Lower Zambezi, with a number of unregulated tributaries has suffered from severe floods almost on an annual basis. Flood management is a shared responsibility by a number of national institutions. There is need for improved coordination, reporting, and disaster management plans.
There are a number of challenges in dealing with droughts, including: poor data networks of climatic and hydrological variables (including water supply); poor information sharing and exchange among Basin states; lack of integrated physical and socio-economic indicators that would facilitate a comprehensive understanding of the magnitude, spatial extent and impacts of droughts; and lack of sound drought management plan, and bureaucratic obstacles to efficient implementation
Regional cooperation in water resources management has been improving, though more slowly than may be desirable to deal with the evident development challenges in the Basin. River Basin management framework is established through the SADC Protocol on Shared Watercourses. However, at present there is no single organisation with responsibility for water resources management of the Zambezi Basin as a whole.
The steps taken so far to establish the Zambezi Watercourse Commission (ZAMCOM) are commendable, but ZAMCOM needs to be operationalised and the institutional frameworks at national level enhanced to facilitate greater cooperation. In addition, the institutional capacity of the water management institutions, both at national level as well as at the regional level, require strengthening as there are deficiencies in terms of funding, skills for integrated water resources management, including hydro-meteorological monitoring, multi-sectoral planning, and environmental management.
Furthermore, there is paucity of data and information on which to base sound water resources planning and management across the Basin; data collection networks are declining and poorly maintained throughout the Basin states, there is inadequate funding of data collection and processing, particularly for water quality and groundwater.
Equally important is the lack of effective stakeholder participation in water resources development and management, an issue engendered by a number of factors including inadequate policy and legal framework, poor funding by governments, mistrust between various stakeholders, and lack of awareness of the benefits of stakeholder involvement in the management