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USAID Regional Center for Southern Africa: Technical analysis for proposed water resource management strategic option

Originally published


This report was prepared by Nathan Associates for the USAID/Regional Center for Southern Africa. The opinions and recommendations in this report are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect those of the RCSA.

Executive Summary

The Regional Center for Southern Africa (RCSA) is in the process of developing a Strategic Plan for FY 2004 - FY 2010 and the purpose of this document is to provide inputs towards the development of the Water Resources Management Component of the Strategic Plan.

The technical analysis provides a background on the water situation in the region with respect to water importance and supply. The critical factors considered were water scarcity and access resulting from natural phenomena and land use activities. A reflection of how critical the region is in relation to these factors is supported by indicators.

Importance of water to the region

In terms of importance of water supply and water resources it is recognized that the region is heavily dependent of water since it is agro-based and yet the subcontinent is largely water scarce due to climatic variability. Pollution and water demand are also increasing as a result of the general growth in population and the related socio-economic development.

Not only are there water shortages, but access to water also poses a daunting challenge in the region. As a result, poor livelihoods are seldom concerned about protecting the natural environments except as sources of food and other essentials leading to water resource degradation. The is, therefore, a clear link between water resources management and community livelihoods. Unless poverty and overpopulation can be part of the integrated water resources management, any attempts to achieve sustainable water resources management is doomed to fail. Hence water supply strategies that integrate natural resources management with improved lifestyles of rural communities are desirable.

Due to the disparity in water resources availability between river basins, the region has started to depend on inter-basin transfers of water and disagreements on how to utilize water resources in certain river basins are being witnessed among some riparian states.

Other initiatives

Prior to considering some focus areas where the USAID/RCSA water strategy can target, the analysis reviewed the projects being supported by other development agencies, those that SADC is developing and the other emerging frameworks and their objectives to which the RCSA strategy could subscribe.

Considering projects identified by SADC and USAID/RCSA initiatives and those supported by other donors areas that are not being given enough attention are:

  • Water quality standards and monitoring;
  • Increased reclamation and reuse of waste water;
  • Groundwater assessment, monitoring and management programs;
  • Economic pricing of water. Tariffs that reflect true cost of supply and environmental cost are not yet reflected; and
  • Water demand assessment, monitoring and forecasting.
Other regional and global initiatives that could influence the strategy are NEPAD and WSSD and the Water and Poverty Initiative whose objectives closely link up with aspects of water resources management and rights to water.

Domains of Strategic Options

Potential water resources management strategic options were analysed in relation to alleviating water scarcity, improving community livelihoods and cross cutting issues related to water resources management.

Strategic options to alleviate water scarcity and access were analysed in the context of integrating surface and groundwater supply options, integrated river basin and natural resource management, and water demand management.

Groundwater stocks are not well known but are important in rural water supply. Groundwater water resources can be part of water supply options for both large scale and community use particularly as part of drought impact mitigation. There is limited data on the status of groundwater resources in almost all of the countries in Southern Africa. A project to address groundwater management in the region has been prepared by the SADC Water Sector Co-ordination Unit (WSCU) and will be funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and further support will be required in various forms e.g. compilation of groundwater resources map in basins and establishment of a regional groundwater information system.

In selecting a river basin in the region where the USAID/RCSA activities could be concentrated, a number of basins were considered including the Congo, Zambezi, Limpopo, Orange and the Okavango and a criteria developed for selection. The Okavango and Limpopo were selected as the candidates for river basin support by USAID/RCSA. The advantages of the Okavango basin are that the Okavango Delta is irreplaceable because of its uniqueness and must be preserved. The basin offers immense return for ecosystem management, conservation of resources and community management of natural resources. A basin commission is already formed and functioning, an integrated basin management plan is in place and this is a sensitive basin where conflict aversion needs to be addressed soon.

The Limpopo Basin has most of the variety needed to demonstrate effective river basin management and analysis can be integrated. The basin also provides lessons across the region from arid west to wet east and there is a great opportunity to study flood and drought management impacts and solutions in the same basin.

While both basins offer tremendous opportunities for demonstrating water resources management needed in the region, the final choice between the two basins may however be made on policy considerations which tend to weigh in favour of the Okavango basin.

Water demand management is critical given that the amounts of rain and run-off are not increasing and that the human population continues to increase being inevitable that demand will eventually outstrip supply. Basing on regional population growth, it is estimated that the water demand will nearly double by 2020. This therefore requires the region to shift form a supply-oriented approach to a demand management approach. Water Demand management techniques employed by some regional countries and other best practices should be fully exploited to avoid or postpone investments in water supply and development.

Not all countries have reliable estimates for water demand to support natural ecosystems because there are currently no reliable tools to accurately estimate how much water is required to maintain forests, grasslands, wetlands and all the other ecosystems, so this is an area that requires further work.

With respect to economic activities that affect water quality due to urbanisation e.g. industrial effluents and sewerage return flows, what is lacking are regional effluent discharge standards and established cost-effective technical experiences that can be shared for replication. For instance recycling of such effluents could avail water resources for re-use.

Those options for improving community livelihoods were integrated with natural resource/biodiversity management and ecotourism as a way of increasing incomes for communities and hence improving livelihoods. A holistic approach is the ecosystem-based approach that provides for a regulated the use of ecosystems for community benefit while preserving the ecosystems' functions.

A meaningful strategy would be one that has a direct and significant impact on the livelihoods of rural people. In this case a good example of a successful pro-poor strategy presented for community based tourism approach e.g. the NACOBTA (Namibia Community Based Tourism Association) can be considered for replication.

Strategic options should take cognizance of HIV/AIDS, women and other vulnerable groups to ensure complete improvement of community livelihoods.

The cross-cutting interventions that are considered are water governing structures, policies and laws, information, planning and investments.

It is also important that the RCSA water resource management component should be aligned with the results areas proposed by SADC WSCU and the activities initiated under the SADC protocol... These SADC structures are the bases for regional water resources management agreements and harmony at regional, basin and government levels. Other platforms e.g. at project level can offer opportunities for sharing experiences and information on best practices of water resources management.

Proposed RCSA Strategy Framework

A criteria was developed for the strategy formulation and a number of result areas for alleviating water scarcity/access and cross-cutting issues are provided below.

The interventions or strategic options that have been selected as a result of the technical analysis are grouped as follows:

  • Policy development and dialogue for water quality management; biodiversity management; water use efficiency; community based management; public-private sector partnerships; and integrating regional and international agreements /protocols/ conventions in national policies and laws.

  • Building and strengthening institutions for proper water governance at SADC, basin and national level; commissions for basin and natural resources management; creation of information systems, conflict resolution and water financing

  • Information sharing on best practices for financing and investment in water resources management (WRM); long term biodiversity conservation; basin/catchment management, water demand management; and water data base systems on surface and groundwater resources.

  • Research on adaptation to withstand impacts of climate change/variability; flood and drought impacts management and mitigation; rain/flood water capture, water supply-demand modelling and planning for all end uses including the environment, community knowledge to improve livelihoods through natural resource management and valuation of wetlands goods and services.

  • Resource allocation for SADC water strategy, particularly groundwater programs, and centres of excellence on ecosystem approach.

  • Community training and empowerments for basin/natural resource management, enhancing coping strategies and incomes in water scarce situations for communities, HIV/AIDS circumstances and women; involvement of rural communities in water planning and management; and access to information for improving livelihoods.
The recommendation is that USAID/RCSA, selects an appropriate basin where a number of the proposed result areas can be achieved preferably through integrated interventions, thus putting resources to efficient use. Lessons learnt can then be disseminated and replicated in other basins. An example is where basin management institutions, policies, plans, community livelihoods, water supply-demand and ecosystem approach issues can all be addressed in one basin.

Some selected critical interventions that can have the most significant impacts at regional level (e.g. policy related) could also be supported. Such initiatives could take advantage of SADC structures to avoid excessive resource requirements that such regional initiatives would normally require to implement.

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