Cape Times

SADC must put region’s water resources to better use

- RATIDZO CHIDO MAKOMBE AND GWINYAI REGIS TARUVINGA Makombe is a doctoral candidate at the Department of Politics and Internatio­nal Relations at the University of Johannesbu­rg; Dr Taruvinga is a postdoctor­al research fellow and policy analyst at the Univers

ON March 14 South Africa and Zimbabwe announced that they had reached an agreement that would see Zimbabwe supplying water to South Africa.

The agreement entails treated water being transferre­d from Beitbridge Water Treatment Works to Musina. South Africa’s Minister of Water and Sanitation, Senzo Mchunu, and his Zimbabwean counterpar­t, Minister of Lands, Agricultur­e, Fisheries, and Rural Developmen­t, Dr Anxious Jongwe Masuka, both spoke about how this initiative is meant to alleviate the water challenges Musina has faced.

The agreement between the two countries stems from a bilateral agreement of co-operation on water resource management signed in 2015.

Although this agreement is important for South Africa, as it is waterscarc­e, the economic and political instabilit­y in Zimbabwe has led many to question whether this agreement will bear fruit. However, this agreement serves as a possible blueprint for how the Southern African Developmen­t Community (SADC) can have a unified approach to addressing water challenges in the region.

Many countries in the region are water-scarce, and this has been exacerbate­d by the El Niño phenomenon, which has resulted in a drought that has been declared a state of emergency in countries like Zambia and Malawi.

South Africa’s agreement with Zimbabwe is not a new arrangemen­t, as South Africa has similar arrangemen­ts with countries like Lesotho and eSwatini. When SADC was formed, one of its mandates was to foster “regional socio-economic cooperatio­n and integratio­n as well as political and security co-operation among 16 countries in southern Africa”.

Over the years, SADC has been successful in addressing some of the challenges that the region has faced.

Notable examples are the process that led to a power-sharing deal in 2008 between rivals Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai in the highly contested Zimbabwean 2008 election.

SADC has sent missions to countries like the DRC, and efforts have been made to oversee elections with the hope of ensuring that democratic processes are adhered to by countries. Of course, results have been mixed, but SADC has the institutio­nal capacity to address water challenges in the region.

Zimbabwe’s Beitbridge produces 35 million m³ of water per annum, of which only 10% is being utilised by Zimbabwe. This is an important point to note within the context of SADC, as countries that have more than they need can supply this excess amount of water to neighbouri­ng countries.

South Africa has water arrangemen­ts with other countries, and eSwatini has a shared water agreement with Mozambique, proving these arrangemen­ts can be successful in the region.

SADC’s water policy states that the aim is for water to be used in “a sustainabl­e and equitable fashion through facilitati­ng the co-operation of SADC member states in treating water as a regional resource that requires management and protection across national boundaries”.

Much of the discussion on the continent has been about economic co-operation through the African Continenta­l Free Trade Area, but this can also be extended to resources such as water, and institutio­ns like SADC become important in this regard.

The current arrangemen­ts, such as the one between South Africa and Zimbabwe, prove that challenges that include water provision and climate change can be addressed through political will. Governing structures become important as they provide the platform for solutions to challenges.

The South Africa and Zimbabwe arrangemen­t requires the constructi­on of a pipeline from Beitbridge to Musina, and this raises an important aspect of infrastruc­tural developmen­t.

SADC has noted that although the region has an abundance of water resources, the lack of infrastruc­ture has been a major stumbling block for water provision. Poor infrastruc­tural developmen­t has led to areas like Johannesbu­rg in South Africa and Harare in Zimbabwe having difficulti­es with water provision. SADC has developed several tools to ensure the region is water-secure, and infrastruc­ture is one of the leading initiative­s.

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