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Time to make Matabeleland Zambezi water project a reality

14 Jan 2021 at 11:51hrs | Views
For the last three decades or so, Zimbabwe's largest cities have faced water challenges due to due to a combination of poor rains, drought
and mismanagement. The situation in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second largest city, is one of desperation.

Zimbabwe may be experiencing normal to above normal rains but as sure as night follows day, by midyear next year, the city will be rationing water supplies as its supply run dry.

It is not unexpected as the city's waproblems have been apparent for over a century when the British colonial settlers first mooted an ambitious idea of drawing water from the Zambezi River on the border with Zambia via a 450-metre pipeline

The project, as conceptualized, was expected to spur socioeconomic growth by creating a green belt of agricultural projects in the region which is already a verdant tourist destination in the country.

At the time, the total cost of the project was going to be 60 000 pounds only, a very expensive undertaking at the time. Since then, successive governments have passed the buck and the project has remained in the annals of dreams while Bulawayo's economic fortunes waned in tune with the growing water crisis. And the short-sightedness has continued to haunt Bulawayo.

According to historian and journalist, Jonathan Maphenduka, Bulawayo also suffered from the questionable decision making when, at the height of the devastating drought of 1991/2, then apartheid South Africa requested to draw water from Kazungula for its dry north western region.

As a sweetener, the South African government offered to build a offshoot pipeline from Francistown to Bulawayo, a city which was already suffering from a crippling water shortage.

The frontline states, in their wisdom turned down the request and Bulawayo has remained trapped in the water crisis.

The 1991 drought was particularly severe for the City of Kings, as Bulawayo is fondly called. The late Erich Bloch, a devout Bulawayo advocate, used to tell of an extreme plan to evacuate the city because city fathers had run out of ideas to access water.

The council, of course, eventually constructed an emergency pipeline from the Nyamandlovu Aquifer to the city's western suburbs.

So, the idea of drawing water from the Zambezi, the fourth longest river on the continent remains a pipedream, but is still viewed as the only lasting solution to Bulawayo and Matabeleland North's water woes.

Now, the cost of the pipeline is estimated at US$864-million, a massive expenditure for a broke government whose annual national budget has averaged US$4 billion in recent years.

The first part of the ambitious project is the construction of the Gwayi-Shangani Dam, whose completion, according to the of State for Profairs for Bulawayo, Judith Ncube will finally be commissioned in 2022, a year later than the previous deadline of instead of December 2021 after the COVID-19 pandemic slowed the progress of the work.

The dam is located about 250 kilometres from Bulawayo and its 634-million-cubic-metre reservoir is almost double the combined capacity of Bulawayo's existing supply dams.

At US$120 million, the dam is being constructed by China International Water and Electric Corporation (CWE), a subsidiary of the global giant China Three Gorges Corporation (CTE). Hopefully, no political setbacks will affect the project and Bulawayo can finally work to regain its lost status as the industrial hub of the country. Its success will certainly help drive the government's ambitious Vision 30 agenda.

Source - Weekly Digest
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