Paving the way for water access

09/09/2016

by Chuma Nombewu, Nick Moss, Robin Wyatt Vision, Jo Hooper

It is not breaking news to say that water is key to survival, yet it is something we are guilty of taking for granted every day. In some regions of the world, the growing impact of climate change is starting to make water a scarce resource. It’s forcing the question, more so than ever, of what can be done to support those who are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change?

Southern Africa is one of the regions in the world that will be severely affected by climate shocks, creating a huge threat to its development. The region is expected to experience rising temperatures and erratic rainfall, leading to more frequent floods and droughts, placing immense pressure on those relying on water for their livelihoods. This will likely damage important sectors such as agriculture and tourism which make vital contributions to local economies and livelihoods.

For countries with stable food supplies and effective infrastructure, climate change may not be a prominent issue, but for villagers in Zimbabwe’s Masvingo province, the change is real. And it is happening – fast.

Johana has lived in Masvingo her entire life, but the effects of last year’s El Nino event, which has been exacerbated by climate change, are now a daily burden. She is one of many women who hike 5km once – sometimes twice – a day to fetch water from a neighbouring village. She fills buckets from muddy, often contaminated streams and carries home up to 20 litres for her family. Her neighbour, Anisto, described the conditions that have left friends and family desperate for food. She said: “Last year we had only two months of rain, then nothing. There is a serious hunger problem. Some of my friends have had to eat roots because of the impacts of drought.”

Anisto and Johana are just a select few who live with the weight of climate change every day. Erratic rainfall has already led to repeated crop failure and severe food shortages in the Masvingo region. Dry seasons have extended and the basin of the 400km long Save River, which runs through Zimbabwe and Mozambique, has lowered leaving thousands suffering from drought. Villagers have taken to the streets to beg for food or work to provide for their families.

Improved water infrastructure can help Johana and thousands of others tackle the impacts of climate change, but delivering small-scale infrastructure in rural areas is challenging. How do you deliver materials to remote locations with no stable roads and no direct transport links? How do you ensure the infrastructure is going to be maintained? How do you encourage an entire community to become involved in such a project? These are just some of the hurdles faced along the way. But with appropriate design, planning and management, successful infrastructure to support the storage and supply of water for household needs can be delivered and act as an enabler for water access to rural areas.

The Climate Resilient Infrastructure Development Facility (CRIDF) is one programme working on the development of infrastructure to build a barrier to climate change. It builds small-scale climate resilient water infrastructure throughout southern Africa. It prepares and implements projects by engaging with local government, assessing local laws and permissions, understanding the capability of local contractors as well as how the final infrastructure will be operated. Crucially the CRIDF project engineers engage with communities, ensuring the projects are designed to address their needs while identifying infrastructure which is fit for purpose.

CRIDF worked in the Masvingo region on two projects in the villages of Kufundada and Bindagombe to support the design and delivery of irrigation infrastructure. In the area, climate change has extended to the dry seasons, reducing the river water level and leaving populations extremely vulnerable to drought. In a region with 90% unemployment and a high dependence on subsistence farming, the Kufundada and Bindagombe projects were essential. Through providing water to irrigate agricultural land the projects are improving access to river water and underground resources. In turn, this is enabling farmers to move to small scale commercial farming, supporting the livelihoods of hundreds of villagers and improving food security.

These projects provide insight into how we can deliver infrastructure, improve access to water, and work towards limiting the effects of climate change. So how can we help the rest of the world battle the impacts of climate change through the provision of small scale water infrastructure? Thousands of people are gathering at World Water Week in Stockholm to develop solutions to some of the world’s most pressing water challenges, like the ones being faced in Zimbabwe. Successful interventions, such as those discussed in this article, will help inspire others to take action.

Adam Smith International implemented CRIDF, funded by UK Aid from the Department for International Development (DfID). For more pictures from the CRIDF project, click here.