By Tabitha Mutenga


THE country’s major dams in all catchment areas are running dry, with national dam levels last week said to be fast receding to crisis levels.
The development threatens to wreck the fragile economy, which is expected to contract this year after an El Niño-induced drought ruined the agricultural sector in the last season and left the country in desperate need of cash for food imports to curtail starvation.
According to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, water is at the core of sustainable development and is critical for socio-economic development, healthy ecosystems and human survival.
It is also vital for reducing the global burden of disease and improving the health, welfare and productivity of populations.
Experts contend that without water, no industries can function; farming enterprises and major agri-businesses are hardest hit by water shortages.
Already, electricity production at the Kariba power plant has been reduced due to receding water levels in Kariba Dam, a situation that has affected domestic electricity supply and forced the country to import power from regional producers, reducing the stock of desperately-needed foreign cash in the economy.
Although forecasts had indicated that rains for the 2016/2017 agricultural season would be earlier than anticipated, it appears rains for the season will come late.
The Southern African Development Community’s weather experts had forecasted an early start of the 2016/2017 rainfall season.
The delay in rainfall has resulted in some small dams and boreholes running dry.
Predictions for the 2016/2017 rainfall season indicated that in terms of agriculture, the rainfall outlook presented a good opportunity for farmers to maximise agricultural production, particularly in areas that normally receive good rainfall.
With the beginning of the hydrological season on October 1, statistics show that of the 20 000 boreholes in the country, 10 000 have run dry and dams such as Upper Ncema are at 0,8 percent capacity and Mzingwane at 2,5 percent.
The water table has also gone down to below 100 metres, instead of the expected 80 metres for many areas. Areas such as Gokwe, Buhera, Dotito, Karanda and Tsholotsho have recorded water tables lower than 100 metres.
The drying of the country’s water sources has been caused by the El Nino-induced drought Zimbabwe experienced during the last season.
The poor weather conditions, including erratic rainfall and long dry spells last season, contributed to large-scale crop failure and livestock deaths across the country, leaving over four  million Zimbabweans in dire need of food aid.
In response to the water crisis, Environment, Water and Climate Minister, Oppah Muchinguri, said the Ministry was seeking Cabinet approval to declare the water situation a crisis.
“The water levels have declined and despite a weather forecast assuring us of normal to above normal rains, we are not sure whether from now to December the normal rains will be received. We cannot take it for granted that it is going to rain,” Muchinguri said.
“We have ordered equipment from Belarus to enable us to drill 100-metre boreholes because we have noticed that we need to be more prepared to deal with the water problems and due to the fact that we are not exploiting our dams, siltation is now rampant and it is very expensive to de-silt because we need equipment for major dams. It has become very expensive and it will cost us more to de-silt than to construct a new dam,” she said.
The Zimbabwe National Water Authority (Zinwa)’s state of major dams report released recently shows that most water catchment areas now have less than normal water storage.
“Levels for most dams continue to decrease due to the dry and hot weather conditions across the country which has triggered an increase in the demand for water. This situation calls for increased water efficiency by all water users across the country,” Zinwa said.
As of October 20, the national dam level average was 41,9 percent, a sharp drop from 56,2 percent during the same period last year. The storage levels are below the normal average of 62,3 percent.
“All farmers intending to use water from Zinwa-managed dams are encouraged to apply and obtain water abstraction agreements for them to have their water allocations reserved in the water bodies. Water abstraction agreements will allow Zinwa to properly plan the limited water resources.
“These water abstraction agreements are a legal requirement and anyone abstracting water without legal documentation is committing an offence and liable to prosecution,” Zinwa said.
Water levels at Lake Mutirikwi, Zimbabwe’s biggest inland dam in the Runde catchment, have drastically declined to 8,9 percent, negatively affecting irrigation potential in the province.
The Save and Runde catchments remain the most affected, with water levels currently standing at 21 percent for Masvingo. The catchments provide surface water to the drought affected provinces of Masvingo, Manicaland, Matabeleland South, Midlands and Mashonaland East.
Mazowe Dam in the Mazowe catchment supplying irrigation water to farmers has also declined to 8,7 percent.
According to the Famine Early Warning Systems (FEWS), the water situation is critical in the south following one of the driest rainfall seasons in 35 years. Water tables are fast receding. Most rivers, dams, wells and even some boreholes have dried up, FEWS says.
A similar situation is being experienced in most areas in the north parts of the country. A few water points remain in most communities to serve large numbers of households and for livestock watering. Livelihood activities that depend on water such as gardening, brick moulding, construction and others are being negatively affected.
With the El Niño Southern Oscillation foreseen to be shifting from the warm through neutral to cold phase, also referred to as La Niña, weather experts are hopeful of a normal to above normal rainfall season for the SADC region.
Story appeared first in The Financial Gazette