World Water Day: a call to action on the extreme drought in Zimbabwe


March 22nd, 2016

As the world celebrates World Water Day, the situation in Zimbabwe is still grim even though it has dropped off the news headlines. A serious drought gripping the country has left a third of the population facing food shortages and needing urgent aid.

female farmer in maize crop field in Zimbabwe impacted by the drought. The maize is dying while the weeds are thriving.

A farmer in Zimbabwe looks over her field of maize which has been affected by the drought.

The drought induced by the El Niño weather phenomena is the worst seen in Zimbabwe for three decades. It has had a catastrophic effect – devastating harvests, causing food prices to soar and leaving tens of thousands of cattle dead.

But there are simple technological solutions that could ensure drought-prone communities have access to water all year round. Such crises can be averted so they aren’t impacted by hunger and have to rely on food aid.

What is the current situation with the drought in Zimbabwe?

  • This time of year is the peak of the rainfall season in Zimbabwe. However, over 95% of the country has received less than 75% of what they would have normally received.
  • Dam levels are decreasing and boreholes are drying up. Women and children are forced to walk long distances to find water to survive. Each journey putting them at risk of attack as they walk alone, far from home.
  • Zimbabwe is dependent on maize as a staple food but as much as 75% of the crops have failed.
  • The corn that is a food staple for much of southern Africa is now so expensive it has become a luxury many can’t afford
  • Zimbabwe is facing its worst malnutrition rates in 15 years. Nearly 33,000 children are in urgent need of treatment for severe acute malnutrition.
  • 35% of households have inadequate water supply and water scarcity is exposing children to higher risks of diarrhoea, typhoid and other water-borne disease including cholera.

Practical Action needs your urgent help. In our project areas of Gwanda and Mwenezi the situation is worsening day by day. The crisis also affects livestock, with a staggering 2,000 deaths reported in the districts; forcing poor and vulnerable families to sell their precious cattle at rock bottom prices.  Livelihoods are in tatters.

How are Practical Action projects being affected?

I spokMartha Munyoroe to Martha Munyoro, our Communications and Knowledge Management Officer in Harare after she visited our projects in some of the worst affected areas.

“The situation in Zimbabwe is very bad,” she said. “The delivery of our agriculture projects has been affected as they are in low rainfall regions.”

  • We’re working on a seed multiplication project in Gwanda District but due to the lack of rain most of the demonstration plots are a complete write off. Many farmers did not even plant the crops due to the severe drought.
  • Our work with farmers in Mutasa District to improve their food, nutrition and income has been impacted. We were demonstrating good agricultural practices to improve farmers’ productivity. However, 80% of our maize crops are a in a very poor state and the rest are a write-off.
  • A project delivering water and sanitation facilities and championing health and hygiene behaviour has also been affected as water becomes scarce. The little water available is kept essentially for cooking, drinking and washing utensils. Taps for hand washing at some homes and schools can’t be used due to the unavailability of water, compromising the health of the communities.

What is Practical Action doing to help?

  • We’ve increased the number of new boreholes we are digging from 20 to 31 to try and increase access to safe water.
  • We’re trying to ration water for irrigating crops and promote climate smart agriculture practices such use in-field soil and water conservation techniques, which is paying off.
  • We’ve also identified great potential for fish farming and are currently working on 22 renovating or constructing fishing ponds.
  • Honey production has also been identified as a potential area and the project is now focusing on identifying interested groups for training and linking to the market.

The drought serves as reminder that communities vulnerable to changing weather patterns need longer-term help adapting.

There will be more droughts in Zimbabwe. In the past it was one big drought every 10 years, then it came to one drought every five years, and now the trends are showing that it will be one every three to five years. It’s climate change…it’s going to be the new norm.

Bringing lasting change to drought-hit communities

Practical Action is working with communities to bring lasting change – helping provide a permanent source of clean water and helping them earn an income so they can buy food.

In Himalaya in the Mutare District of Zimbabwe, we have been constructing a micro-hydro scheme and two solar-powered irrigation schemes to provide water to communities, particularly for farming which is a major source of income for rural poor people.

Farmers Elizabeth and Lindiwe Mukonje have always struggled to get a good harvest from their two hectare plot due to lack of irrigation but thanks to the solar-powered irrigation scheme they are able to grow a variety of crops throughout the year.

Elizabeth and Lindiwe Mukonje in their tomato field.

Elizabeth and Lindiwe Mukonje in their tomato field.

“We have received a good income from the sale of the sugar beans and this has enabled us to send our children to school, buy food for the family and clothes for everyone,” said Lindiwe.

13-year-old Cornelius Mayengamhuru said the project will help generations to come.

Cornelius Mayengamhuru is all smiles!

Cornelius Mayengamhuru is all smiles!

He said: “I hope my parents will start to grow potatoes now that there is plenty of water being powered by electricity, so that I will be able to eat healthy. I study agriculture at school so when I grow up I want to be a farmer, own a piece of land here and develop my community. This project just came at the right time”.

We are also delivering solar-powered garden projects in Gwanda District, Zimbabwe.

54-year-old Janet Moyo, a vegetable and maize farmer in Sibula village, said: “This place is dry and water is a challenge. We have not yet received any rains since October. This project came as a miracle to us. Most farmers are now able to sell their excess crops to other people in their communities as well as other neighbouring communities.”

Janet Moyo watering her crops

Janet Moyo watering her crops.

60-year-old Masotsha Leslie Tshalibe said the solar powered projects have transformed the lives of people there.

“The projects enable families to increase food security and income generation and have also improved access to clean water as submersible pumps are buried in dry river beds and they tap directly from the water table. The water is clean and safe for households use.”

So many more drought-prone communities could get access to these simple technological solutions to give them access to water all year round.

This World Water Day we’re calling for action. We’re calling on donors and Zimbabwe government officials not only to address the imminent crisis but also to scale up technological development for agriculture, energy and water to help mitigate the impact of climate change on the region’s poorest people and help communities become more resilient to future weather events.

How can I help people impacted by drought in Zimbabwe?

And we’re calling on you to make a difference this World Water Day by giving an urgent donation today.

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