Thursday, January 08, 2009

Harnessing the Zambezi

LILONGWE, Dec 2 - If the socio-economic development goals of the eight countries that share the Zambezi River basin are to be met, countries along the river should quickly implement plans towards managing water resources in an efficient, effective and sustainable manner.

This was the agreement made during the Fourth Zambezi Basin-wide Stakeholders Forum which took place in Malawi's capital, Lilongwe from Nov. 26-27.

The gathering, an annual event of stock-taking and strategising first held in 2005, focuses on managing the resources of the Zambezi basin. This year's forum was aimed at turning the Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) Strategy and implementation plan of the Zambezi river basin resources into action.

The IWRM spells out how the eight Zambezi Riparian States -- Angola, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia, Tanzania and Zimbabwe -- can share the benefits derived from the water resources of the Zambezi River Basin in a sustainable and equitable manner.

Malawi's Principal Secretary for irrigation and water development, Andrina Mchiela, alerted the forum to several serious warning signs concerning the water situation in the region. She said that many rivers in the water basin are now running dry before they reach the lakes or seas they previously emptied into. Across the region, water tables are drying up and wetlands are fast disappearing. She said there was need to speed up the process of implementing the IWRM to counter these negative developments.

The IWRM strategy addresses four issues, namely lack of coordinated water resources development, poor environmental management approaches, weak climate change adaptation measures and weak regional cooperation and integration mechanisms.

"There is need for a very careful management of the water resources in the Zambezi Water Basin," said Mchiela.

Mchiela said there is growing demand for fresh water in the region, which, she said, is currently using 50 percent of all fresh water sources.

"At the current trend, by 2025, we shall be using 75 percent of all the fresh water," said Mchiela.

Globally, up to one billion people lack clean water, two billion have no proper sanitation and seven billion will be faced with severe water shortages by 2015, according to Mchiela. She said the IWRM should be used to improve the situation, at least in the region.

"We need in-basin people that are dedicated towards finding solutions to these challenges," said Mchiela.

Another problem facing the Zambezi Basin is the impact of climate change. According to Kenneth Msibi, Water Policy and Strategy Expert for the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the Zambezi is the worst-affected basin in the world.

Frequent floods and intense droughts are expected to become even more frequent occurrences. In 2007 alone, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe all experienced intense flooding which affected more than half a million people.

Msibi said that a large part of the population of six of the eight states along the Zambezi live below the poverty line and water management has a role to play in economic and social development for the region.

"The challenge is to use water as a catalyst for development," said Msibi. "We now need to see tangible actions if the region has to achieve poverty reduction and economic prosperity," said Msibi.

He said water, food and energy security can be realised from the Zambezi water basin, explaining that it is the biggest river basin in SADC with abundant water resources and good soils that need to be effectively utilised.

"There is so much potential in this water basin," said Msibi.

The Zambezi basin is home to over 40 million people, according to the 2007 IWRM Forum Report. The basin is reported to be rich in human, social, political, economic, natural and ecological diversity and has high potential for agriculture, fisheries, forestry, wildlife and hydroelectric power generation.

David Harrison, Senior Advisor and Consultant for Global Freshwater Team, called on the Zambezi water basin riparian states to learn from the effective management currently taking place on China's Yangtze River basin. The Yangtze is the world's third longest river.

Harrison cited flood control initiatives, constructing and operating of dams in ways that reduce impacts on the river and its aquatic populations as some of the projects that should be encouraged in the Zambezi water basin.

The formulation of the IWRM followed the Zambezi Watercourse Commission (ZAMCOM) agreement signed by the eight riparian states in July 2004. The countries indicated that they recognized the significance of the Zambezi watercourse as a major water resource in the region and the need to conserve, protect and sustainably utilise the resources of the basin. The states also committed themselves to ensure equitable and reasonable utilization and efficient management and sustainable development of the water basin resources.

The forum came up with resolutions to improve water reservoir management for improved food security and for the rehabilitation, management and monitoring of environmental-vulnerable areas in the basin.

The forum was attended by delegates from government ministries for environment, water, justice, finance, fisheries, forestry, agriculture and energy, non-governmental organisations working in environment and water sectors, traditional leaders who represented their communities, universities and research institutions, parliamentarians, private sector, and local government leaders.


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