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DEVELOPMENT-SOUTHERN AFRICA: States Against Zambezi Current

Thessa Bos

CAPE TOWN, Nov 27 2006 (IPS) - Seventy percent of the Zambezi river’s hydropower potential remains untapped because stakeholder countries have failed to ratify an agreement as the first step towards activating this potential.

This problem emerged at the annual Zambezi River Basin stakeholders’ conference which took place in Windhoek, Namibia, on Nov. 22 and 23.

The conference was organised by the Zambezi Action Plan Project 6 Phase 2 (ZACPRO 6.2), a Southern African Development Community (SADC) initiative which aims to facilitate social and economic development in the basin through improving the management of its resources.

At the opening of the conference, the Namibian deputy minister of agriculture, water and rural development, Paul Smit, urged those countries which have not yet ratified the agreement to expedite the process. “It is teamwork that makes the dream work,” he said.

Eight riparian states signed an agreement over a decade ago to establish the Zambezi Watercourse Commission (ZAMCOM) to lead the development of the Zambezi River Basin.

So far, only Angola, Botswana, Mozambique and Namibia have ratified the agreement. ZAMCOM will only come into force after ratification by at least six of the riparian states. Those still to take the step are Malawi, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Currently, several actors are involved in the management and development of water resources within the Zambezi river basin, a situation which has sometimes led to inefficiency.

An acute shortage of electricity generation capacity led to SADC’s decision to develop the Zambezi river’s high hydropower potential. Power shortages in Southern Africa are expected to get worse as demand for electricity continues to exceed the available supply.

However, building dams for hydropower generation purposes can have far-reaching consequences for the environment and those eking out livelihoods on river banks.

At the conference the need for electricity was widely recognised, but participants also stressed the possible consequences of such development. The extent of these effects needs to be identified through the effective application of environmental impact assessments (EIAs) which include stakeholder participation.

Moreover, without the participation of stakeholders at all levels of society, including water users, ZACPRO’s Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) strategy will not enjoy the sense of ownership it needs to succeed.

To ensure stakeholder participation at community level, national steering committees (NSCs) have been created to link ZACPRO 6.2 with citizens on the ground. However, the majority of the NSCs have not, so far, been able to include representatives from local communities in their membership.

As a solution, participants suggested that the steering committees link up with existing institutions. Each riparian state already has systems for information sharing with local communities. These include sub-committees of local councils.

Some participants called for the establishment of “smart partnerships” with community-based organisations. This is another way in which ZACPRO 6.2 can ensure grassroots involvement.

Malawi’s principal secretary in the Ministry of Irrigation and Water Development, Grain Malunga, pointed out that Malawi has been successful in involving stakeholders through using grassroots initiatives. These include community radio stations and community-based natural resources management committees.

Further brainstorming led to suggestions to incorporate awareness of water management in school curricula, as well as to shift the focus of current awareness programmes from mainstream media to rural community-based media.

“At the end of the day, the mainstream media reach very few people at the grassroots level,” one participant said.

Fitting the regional plans in with national plans presents another challenge. Water management strategies rely on a joint effort from different governmental departments, such as water, agriculture, tourism, energy and finance.

The regional project manager of Global Water Partnership Southern Africa, Alex Simalabwi, drew attention to the fact that the United Nations World Summit in September 2005 called for the preparation of water management plans as part of national development plans.

This has created an opportunity to reach out to policy makers and planners in other sectors of government to put water issues onto national agendas, said Simalabwi. Global Water Partnership Southern Africa is one of ZACPRO’s strategic partners.

He pointed out that by working with officials from the Department of Finance and other government departments, Malawi’s water sector budget increased by 64 percent between the 2005 and 2006 financial years.

Simalabwi also underlined the opportunity for national water management strategies to serve as building blocks for the Zambezi IWRM strategy.

Mozambique, Malawi and Zambia are in the process of developing national water management plans. Malawi and Zambia have succeeded in integrating the Zambezi water management plan into their national development frameworks.

“Using national plans and strategies as a basis for the Zambezi management plan would underscore the national ownership of the strategy,” said Malunga.

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