Drought, Floods and Chronic Water Shortages: Unholy Trinity Haunting Sikaunzwe Residents

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A man canoeing in a dambo. Photo by Newton Sibanda

Newton Sibanda
February 13, 2018

IN Kazungula’s Sikaunzwe area, the combined impacts of inadequate rural water supply, saline groundwater, and the absence of effective drought and flood management have culminated in a water crisis which is taking a serious toll on the health and livelihoods of residents.

During periods of drought, many families in Sikaunzwe temporarily migrate to the banks of the Zambezi River in order to have access to water supply.

This seasonal migration has a hugely disruptive impact on people’s lives; children are forced to miss school for extended periods, and livelihoods suffer as people are unable to tend to their crops.

“About 135 out of 173 learners miss school every day whenever families shift to the banks of the Zambezi River,” lamented Kasaya Primary School Deputy Headmistress Ruth Khondowe.

The seasonal migration has also contributed to the loss of human life and livestock through human- wildlife conflict.

Residents are forced to travel even further in search of a water supply, as far as 15 kilometres, and spend over six hours a day collecting water from unprotected sources such as burrow pits and dambos, and incidents of waterborne disease increase dramatically.

In all this predicament, it is women and children who bear the brunt of the burden of collecting water, and the time wasted collecting water eats into income generating activities and school attendance.

“The water challenges have really crippled our economic activities and made our lives really difficult, especially for women and children,” said Headman Sikuyu.

Drinking water from these unprotected sources poses serious health risks. Due to poor quality water supply, the occurrence of diarrheal diseases in Sikaunzwe is exceptionally high.

A report by the Fair Water Futures Programme notes that in 2014, diarrhoea was the second most prevalent disease amongst children under five at Sikaunzwe clinic.

Fair Water Futures Programme is a joint initiative between local non-governmental organisation (NGO) Action for Water and Water Witness International to generate evidence and advocacy material to improve water resource management and ground water security for all Zambians.

The report notes that in the largely rural Kazungula district, Sikaunzwe suffers from low levels of rural water supply coverage. It is estimated that rural water supply coverage in the district is between 45-50 percent, meaning that half the population of Sikaunzwe, approximately 4,769 residents, are without access to a safe and reliable water supply.

Of the existing boreholes in Sikaunzwe, many yield saline groundwater which is unfit for domestic use.

A 2015 study of boreholes in Sikaunzwe by the Department of Water Resources Development (DWRD) found high levels of electrical conductivity and total dissolved solids, which are indicative of salinity, in excess of Zambia Bureau of Standards (ZABS) drinking water standards and concluded that the groundwater was unfit for drinking and domestic use.

Additional research by the University of Zambia (UNZA) Integrated Water Resources Management Centre recommended that DWRD and the Ministry of Local Government should explore boreholes at different depths, with desalination and rain water harvesting as alternative sources of water supply.

Under the Water Supply and Sanitation Act, local authorities are responsible for proving water supply and sanitation services in areas under their jurisdiction.

However, the Kazungula District Council lacks the capacity and resources to provide sufficient rural water supply.

Kazungula district is vast, and without adequate resources for personnel and travel, the council struggles to oversee the drilling of boreholes, and monitor rural water supply coverage.

This state of affairs is not unique to Kazungula, as the ministry of Local Government noted, the capacity of local authorities to deliver rural water supply “is generally compromised by the mismatch between their mandated functions and the resources available to them to undertake those functions.”

The report further notes that the limited resources of the council and donors are often wasted on drilling boreholes which yield saline water, or no water at all.

The lack of standards and guidelines for borehole drilling, the poor understanding of siting procedures, and the absence of a system to collect and manage drilling data contributes to this state of mismanagement.

The National Water Supply and Sanitation Council (NWASCO) has begun developing a regulation strategy for rural water supply and sanitation, which offers an opportunity for enhanced coordination and accountability, but it has yet to be adopted.

NWASCO spokesperson Mpunga Simukwai notes that as a rural district, Kazungula falls outside the mandate of Southern Water and Sewerage Company (SWSC).

Ms Simukwai however says NWASCO has formulated the Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Regulation strategy to be piloted this year.

“Furthermore, the Water Resources Management Authority (WARMA) will soon launch ground water regulations which will regulate borehole drilling.

And ZABS has since formulated a standard to guide borehole drilling in Zambia,” she said.
Water challenges in Sikaunzwe are compounded by regular periods of drought and flooding, during which water sources are prone to dry up or become contaminated without adequate mitigation and preparedness.

Over the past four decades, Zambia has experienced an increase in the frequency of floods and droughts as a result of climate change, as well as changing rainfall patterns, with shorter rainy seasons and more intense rainfall.

Sikaunzwe is located in the Zone I agro-ecological region of Zambia which has been most effected by the impacts of climate change, and in recent years has suffered from an alternating pattern of droughts and floods.

The report notes that “Despite the tenacious engagement of community representatives in Sikaunzwe, government duty bearers have yet to honour their commitments and address the water challenges in Sikaunzwe.”

To address the problem, the report notes that among other things, the DWRD must develop new infrastructure and rehabilitate existing infrastructure for water storage in Sikaunzwe.

The Ministry of Water Development must prioritise the development and implementation of rural water supply regulations while WARMA must finalise groundwater regulations, and implement a system to license borehole drillers.

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