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Gwayi-Shangani dam: Mat North's elusive hope

07 Jun 2016 at 07:04hrs | Views
IT was in 1991 when the government made a resolution to build a dam at the confluence of the Gwayi and Shangani Rivers in Matabeleland North province.

The multi-million dollar project was to be a solution to Bulawayo's perennial water problems and a regional economic enabler in the drought-prone Matabeleland through the creation of a green belt of irrigation agriculture along the pipeline linking the dam and Bulawayo.

The massive dam project not only won the support of the neighbouring Dete and Gwayi communities but received a big endorsement from national leaders such as the then Minister of Energy and Water Resources Development, the late Herbert Ushewokunze, the late Vice Presidents Joseph Msika and Landa John Nkomo, former Home Affairs Minister Dumiso Dabengwa, the late Retired Major General Jevan Maseko, traditional leaders, residents and councillors among others.

The government floated the first tender for the project in 1994 and construction work was set to begin in the 1995/96 financial year.

However, a Chinese contractor, who won tender to construct the dam wall, only moved on site 10 years later in 2004 due to lack of funding.

Since then a chain of completion deadlines have been set amid verbal rhetoric, which has not translated to tangible progress on the ground.

To date the project is still at its infancy with only foundation excavations done after sluggish progress.

Works stalled in 2007 before resuming in 2012 only to stop without much progress the following year.

Twenty five years since its inception, that long awaited hope and a developmental game changer still remains elusive.

Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko came face to face with this grim reality when he visited the dam site last week Wednesday.

Engineers told the VP that the contractor, China International Water and Electric (CWE), has deserted the site out of frustration with the government owing close to $18 million for the preliminary works that had been done since commencement of the project in 2012.

In shock VP Mphoko retorted, "so at the moment there's nothing taking place here" to which the engineer replied "yes".

According to the engineers the contractor, soon after winning the tender, moved to site by mobilising equipment, created access roads, erected requisite structures and machinery installations, which are lying idle and were seen by VP Mphoko.

They told the Vice President and senior government officials that progress was hinged on the availability of funding and that, with adequate support, the project could be completed within a space of 24 months.

"Currently the project is on suspension due to lack of funding.

"The contractor stopped working citing funding constraints and we hope money will be found for it to resume," said one of the engineers during a briefing.

"The contractor has done concrete excavations, which were completed in December 2012 but couldn't proceed further because of funds.

"He had to stop operations five months later in May 2013."

An estimated $90 million is required to complete the project, which would be the biggest in the province and third largest in the country after Mutirikwi and Tokwe Mukorsi.

Analysts have pointed to inadequate funding from the government as a major hurdle.

They observed that while the government has provided some funding for the project through budgetary allocations in 2012 ($8 million), 2013 ($8 million) and $10 million in 2014, no allocations were made in 2015 and this year.

It is important that this dam project be given priority in the fiscus given its potential to impact positively in terms of job creation and food security in the region.

As an agriculture based economy, Zimbabwe stands to benefit immensely from projects like Gwayi-Shangani, which could also increase earnings from exports and supply to agro-processing industries.

In 2014 a high powered ministerial delegation visited the site and placed completion deadline for the dam in July this year and 2018 for the whole National Matabeleland Zambezi Water Project at a combined cost of $1,2 billion.

The July 2016 deadline was hinged on funding to the tune of $53 million, which was to be secured from China Africa Sunlight Energy (CASE), which pitched a $2,1 billion 600MW electricity project that is expected to draw water from the dam.

The long history of missed targets tells the whole story of lack of support for this key project. Even VP Mphoko admitted that "this project has taken too long to complete".

He was told that CASE has failed to meet its commitment to funding the dam project on the ground that it was having some challenge with its investors.

VP Mphoko, who was accompanied by Matabeleland North Provincial Minister of State, Cain Mathema, expressed concern over delays in the completion of the project and vowed to engage the relevant ministries to ensure progress.

"This project has taken too long to complete.

"We don't need to tie it to this company alone but would rather get the required funding from other sources," said Mphoko.

"This dam is very important to this region, especially for the communities around this area for irrigation farming interests.

We'll ensure this project is completed as soon as possible. As long as we've water this country will never have problems."

The dam site is located at about 6km downstream on the confluence of Gwayi and Shangani Rivers and has a catchment area of close to 38,000 square kilometres – extending from Gweru, Bulawayo, Tsholotsho, Nkayi and Silobela.

On completion the dam would have a holding capacity of 635 million cubic metres. As part of the NMZWP, which was initiated in 1912, the project consists of a pipeline to Cowdray Park water works in Bulawayo.

There would be another pipeline from the mighty Zambezi River to the dam that would run parallel to the railway line.

Engineers say the bulk of the water would come from the dam with 20 percent coming from the Zambezi River.

Apart from supporting agricultural activities within a 20km corridor on each side of the pipeline, the dam project is also set to facilitate establishment of a small hydro-power generation plant that would produce about 6MW.

Mathema has indicated that the project was one of the priority investments under the mega deals that President Mugabe signed with China.

Source - chronicle
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