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Responsible water governance for peace

The Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (Zela) celebrates World Water Day, welcoming this call to act and tackle the global water crisis – a natural resource that is at the centre of many conflicts.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) notes that roughly half of the world’s population is experiencing severe water scarcity for at least part of the year, thus, water is a powerful resource that can either cause conflict or promote peace.

The sixth Sustainable Development Goal emphasises the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all, confirming the importance of water and sanitation on the global political agenda.

Water is recognised as a fundamental human right, and access to clean and safe water and sanitation facilities is essential for the well-being of individuals and communities. 

Water, as a shared resource, is critical in determining whether peace or conflict exists.

 As the world commemorates World Water Day, it is critical that we reflect on the running theme for the year, ‘Water for Peace’.

According to the World Meteorological Organisation, only 0.5% of the world’s water is usable and available as freshwater, emphasizing the importance of creating and maintaining a secure and equitable water future.

For peace to ensue, it is critical for the world to have a secure and equitable water future as water plays a crucial role in peacebuilding by promoting cooperation, resolving conflicts, fostering sustainable development, and empowering marginalized communities.

Water, as a shared resource, has the potential to bring conflicting parties together and serve as a platform for dialogue and collaboration.

Further, access to clean and reliable water sources can address some of the root causes of conflict and instability, such as competition over scarce resources. 

Understanding the main drivers of water conflict is, therefore, one of the most important issues for resolving it and achieving peace.

Thus, in line with this year’s global theme, our theme for World Water Day is Responsible Water Governance for Peace as scarcity, unequal access, poor infrastructure development, climate change, and pollution have all been major causes of water-related conflict in Zimbabwe.

The country has faced significant water challenges, particularly in communal areas where women and children travel long distances to access water, a big conflict driver because water sources, such as boreholes, are unevenly distributed.

 It is important to note that water-related conflicts can occur at the community, regional, or national levels.

Our advocacy efforts for responsible water governance are informed by the fact that water can bring prosperity to communities.

We applaud efforts that have been made in both rural and urban communities to increase resilience and adaptability to water scarcity through various solutions.

The implementation of solar-powered water schemes and the construction of reservoirs to harvest water have helped to reduce conflict and foster peace among communities.

We encourage local governments and development partners, acknowledged by Unicef in 2022, to continue empowering communities in water conservation efforts to address the issue of water scarcity.

Zela also grounds community trainings on water governance on the principles of integrated water resources management as it is critical for communities and stakeholders to recognize that fresh water is a finite and vulnerable resource that is required to sustain life, development, and the environment, so it is critical to safeguard and manage the fresh water available.

We take water governance issues to communities because it is critical that water development and management take a participatory approach, which includes all users, planners, and policymakers at all levels .

Zela does not take issues of water governance as abstract, theoretical concepts but links them to everyday challenges in communities such as cholera cases.

 As such, service delivery is one of our thematic areas which is crucial to understand the state of water supply in Zimbabwe.

In recent years, the country has experienced alarming cholera outbreaks, largely due to contaminated water sources and inadequate water treatment facilities.

These challenges have been exacerbated by the lack of proper infrastructure and service delivery in many areas, leading to limited access to clean and safe drinking water.

 To address these issues, we implore the government and relevant stakeholders to prioritize investments in water infrastructure and improve service delivery to ensure that all citizens have access to safe and reliable water sources.

Additionally, implementing effective water management practices and raising awareness about the importance of water sanitation and hygiene are essential steps in safeguarding public health and enhancing the overall state of water supply in Zimbabwe.

Furthermore, to promote responsible water governance, it is critical to recognize that women play an important role in the provision, management, and protection of water in communities.

 Women are the primary providers, managers and users of water, however global statistics highlight that less than 17% of women make up the labour force of water, sanitation, and hygiene in developing economies.

Guided by Sustainable Development Goal five on Gender Equality, it is critical to ensure women’s full and effective participation, as well as equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic, and public life.

 Water must also be viewed as an economic good with economic value in all its competing applications.

As such, enhancement of irrigation infrastructure and promotion of water efficient practices are crucial in fostering economic development.

Zela is also interested in strengthening weak institutional, policy, and legal frameworks that compromise responsible water governance as the state of the water legal framework in Zimbabwe is in a deplorable state, characterised by antiquated legislative provisions.

The world is continuously evolving, and new challenges confront the water sector.

To effectively rectify these challenges, it is imperative to update legal and policy frameworks in tandem with modern trends and international best practices on regulating water issues.

 As it stands, the enforcement mechanisms in place fall short of the international standards on water best suited to produce an effective legal and regulatory framework.

To reduce water conflicts, the laws and policies should also consider and recognize the indigenous or tribal rights to water, based on historical use and cultural significance.

Water rights permitting and licencing provisions should be continuously reviewed through public consultations and Riparian rights should be comprehensively addressed within our water laws to reduce avoidable conflicts. -Zela

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