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Zimbabwe is part of:
Africa · Eastern Africa · Southern Africa ·
Water Basins of Zimbabwe:
Buzi · Limpopo · Okavango · Pungwe · Sabi · Zambezi ·
Facts & Figures edit
Capital Harare
Neighbouring Countries Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia
Total Area 390,580 km2
  - Water 3,910 km2 (1.00%) / 100 m2/ha
  - Land 386,670 km2
Coastline 0 km
Population 13,009,530 (33 inhab./km2)
HDIA 0.513 (2007)
Gini CoefficientA 50.1 (1995)
Nominal GDPB $4,548 million
GDP (PPP) Per CapitaB $200
Land UseC
  - Cultivated Land km2 (%)
     - Arable km2 (8.24%)
     - Permanent Crops km2 (0.33%)
     - Irrigated 1,740 km2
  - Non cultivated km2 (91.43%)
Average Annual RainfallD 657 mm
Renewable Water ResourcesE 20 km3
Water WithdrawalsF 4.205 km3/yr
  - For Agricultural Use 79%
  - For Domestic Use 14%
  - For Industrial Use n/a
  - Per Capita 334 m3
Population with safe access to
  - Improved Water Source 81%
     - Urban population 98%
     - Rural population 72%
  - Improved Sanitation 53%
     - Urban population 63%
     - Rural population 47%
References & Remarks
A UNDP Human Development Report
B CIA World Factbook and Wikipedia
C CIA World Factbook Country Profiles
D Aquastat - FAO's Information System on Water and Agriculture
E CIA World Factbook
F Earthtrends

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Country Profile: Climate, Geography, Socio-Economic Context

Located in southeastern Africa, the Republic of Zimbabwe is a landlocked country bordered by Botswana to the southwest, Mozambique to the east, Zambia to the northwest, and South Africa to the south. Along the border with Mozambique are the East African Highlands, a mountain range that features a cool, wet climate. The Zambezi River is found along the border with Zambia and contains the majestic Victoria Falls, the world’s largest waterfall. A high, rocky plateau traverses much of the center of the country, while lower plateaus and grasslands can be found in the west. The country’s natural resources include coal, gold, nickel, copper, iron ore, lithium, tin, and platinum.

Country Profile: Water Bodies and Resources

Zimbabwe is bordered by the Zambezi River to the north and by the Limpopo River to the south. Both rivers flow into Mozambique and are fed by Zimbabwe’s internal river systems. Zimbabwe’s seven major rivers flow into seven river catchments: the Save, Runde, Mzingwane, Gwayi, Sanyati, Manyame, and Mazowe. Reservoirs have been and are being developed to better exploit the country’s water resources. Zimbabwe’s major reservoir capacity comes from Lake Kariba, which the country shares with Zambia. The country’s irrigation potential draws primarily on these surface water resources.

Zimbabwe has total annual internal renewable water resources of 12.26 cubic kilometers: 11.26 cubic kilometers are surface water resources and 6 cubic kilometers are groundwater, with an estimated 5 cubic kilometer overlap between the two sources. The country has an average annual rainfall of 657 millimeters, but rainfall can range from over 1000 to only 300 to 450 millimeters, depending on location. Rainfall figures decrease steadily across the country from north to south and also from east to west. Thirty-seven percent of the country can sustain rain-fed agriculture, while the remainder is dependent on supplemental or full-time irrigation.

In 2002, total water withdrawal in Zimbabwe was approximately 4.2 cubic kilometers. Seventy-nine percent of this water was used for agriculture, including irrigation, fish-farming and livestock. Zimbabwe has an estimated 550,000 hectares that are irrigable, but irrigation systems have been developed for only 200,000 hectares. Of the developed systems, many have deteriorated or been destroyed in the years of conflict related to land reform efforts.

Tenure Issues

Under formal law, the state owns all surface and groundwater in Zimbabwe. All Zimbabweans have the right to water for primary (domestic) use while other uses require state approval. Water rights are managed by Catchment Councils, which can issue permits for water use for agriculture and industry. Permits are typically valid for 12 years and are renewable. Payments are made based on the volume of water used, and permits transfer with the sale of land.

Under customary law, the population has the right to use water for all traditional purposes, without obtaining a permit or making any payment. Zimbabweans have a long history of managing water resources at local levels, including establishing practices governing hand-dug wells, springs, and boreholes. In some areas, a water source on private homesteads may be considered a public resource.

Country Profile: Legal and Institutional Environment

Legal Framework

The Water Act of 1998 and the National Water Authority Act of 1998 are the cornerstones of the Government of Zimbabwe’s legal framework governing water resources. Under the Water Act, water resources are vested in the President and cannot be privately owned. The Zimbabwe National Water Authority Act, 1998, established the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (ZINWA), the parastatal agency responsible for water planning and supply.

Zimbabwe does not have a national irrigation policy. National objectives for agriculture, including irrigation, are captured in Zimbabwe’s Agricultural Policy Framework (ZAPF), which is effective for the 1995–2020 period. Policy objectives include: increases in irrigated areas, primarily targeting smallholders; equitable and efficient allocation of water resources; creation of water-pricing structures based on cost and “social efficiency;” establishment of improved institutional structures; and implementation of drought mitigation plans.

The Environment Management Act (2002) provides the legal foundation for the sustainable management of natural resources (including water), prevention of pollution and environmental degradation, preparation of national and other environmental management plans, and custodianship of the country’s environmental impact assessment policy. The Act provides for an Environmental Management Agency that has the power to advise on, plan, and regulate matters of environment.

Under customary law, Zimbabwe’s water belongs to the land. All residents have the right to use water resources for domestic needs, irrigation, watering livestock, and for use in activities such as brick-making. Under customary law, water use is governed by local water-point committees, or, in their absence, chiefs, headmen, or village assemblies. These traditional bodies continue to exercise authority over water resources in many areas.

Institutional Framework

The Ministry of Rural Resources and Infrastructural Development (MRRID) establishes policies on water resource development. Several departments and parastatal agencies under MRRID are involved in irrigation and water: the Department of Water Development, ZINWA, and the District Development Fund. ZINWA advises the Minister on the formulation of national water policies and standards and, in conjunction with Catchment Councils, is responsible for the planning, coordination and management of national water resources and delivery. There are seven Catchment Councils, which represent all stakeholders in their catchment areas including both smallholders and large commercial operators. Catchment Councils and Sub-Councils prepare plans for the development and utilization of the water resources in their areas, create inventories, and develop water-development proposals in line with the inventory of resources.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) is responsible for agriculture and irrigation policy- development and implementation. Departments and parastatal agencies involved in irrigation under the control of MARD include the Department of Research and Extension Services, the Agricultural and Rural Development Authority, the Grain Marketing Board, and the Department of Irrigation.

The Ministry of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing oversees smallholder irrigation development. The Ministry of Finance and Economic Development manages financial resources for irrigation development.

Customary law provides that local bodies such as water-point committees and village councils, or traditional leaders such as chiefs and headmen, have authority to manage the community’s water resources. Community sanctions ensure compliance with established rules. In many areas, the traditional bodies continue to govern issues of day-to-day water access and use, with water-point committees reporting in some cases to Catchment Councils or sub-Councils.

Government Reforms and Interventions

The Water Act and the Zimbabwe National Water Authority Act are the culmination of Zimbabwe’s overhaul of the legislative framework for the water sector. In the last decades, the government has indicated its support for large- and medium-scale dam projects and irrigation development designed to support small farmers, although it has often relied almost entirely on donor funding for execution of projects.

The Zimbabwe’s Agricultural Policy Framework (1995–2020) includes the following objectives: (1) growth in the irrigated area (particularly in the smallholder sector) with minimal negative impacts on the environment and human health; (2) equitable allocation and efficient use of scarce water resources; (3) establishment of a water- pricing structure that is consistent with cost and social efficiency; (4) establishment of an effective institutional structure; and (5) implementation of drought-mitigating strategies.

The Government of Zimbabwe’s 2003 National Economic Recovery Programme (NERP) singles out irrigation as the most important and necessary requirement for agricultural development given the country’s vulnerability to drought and the high risks associated with rainfed agriculture. The broad strategy and policy objectives in the irrigation subsector aim to: (1) contribute to poverty alleviation by targeting resource-poor smallholder farmers with an aim to increasing farm incomes; (2) increase agricultural production and enhance food security at the household level by ensuring some crop production during droughts and dry seasons; (3) extend cropping opportunities and provide a wider variety of crops in both wet and dry seasons to improve nutritional status; (4) create an enabling environment for irrigated agriculture by facilitating and encouraging the private sector to invest in irrigation development; (5) enhance human capacity for irrigated agriculture in the public, parastatal and private sector; and (6) create a spirit of business culture in the smallholder farmers.

Country Profile: Water Sector Coordination

See Sector coordination sub-page for detailed description

Country Profile: Trends in Water Use, Management and Sanitation

In recent years, drought has strained farmers and pastoralists, and the land reform and resettlement program has created an increased need for the development of irrigation systems for smallholders. Zimbabwe has well-developed dams, but they have not been fully exploited. Beginning in the 1990’s the government recognized the need for a new framework governing water resources, and the importance of providing irrigation for smallholders in order to increase agricultural productivity.

Country Profile: Challenges and Opportunities

Industry, human waste, and agriculture practices have polluted Zimbabwe’s water sources. Deep wells and boreholes are often subjected to chemical contamination, while shallow wells are vulnerable to bacteriological and physical contamination. People living downstream are particularly affected. The crisis in Zimbabwe has also resulted in the deterioration of urban water and sanitation systems, leading to serious cholera outbreaks.

Donor Interventions and Investments

Donors providing water and sanitation support to Zimbabwe include USAID in conjunction with the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), the European Commission, the United Nations Childrens’ Fund (UNICEF), the Department for International Development (DFID), New Zealand Aid, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), the German Government and others. The FAO, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), the European Union (EU), the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and other partners have joined in a 5-year (2010–2015), US$ 900-million project to develop and rehabilitate Zimbabwe’s irrigation systems and institutions. The project follows on and expands and deepens the FAO’s US$ 5.9 million project providing agricultural inputs–– including irrigation––to smallholders, which ended in 2009.

The United Nations Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Cluster focuses on coordinating efforts in water sanitation and hygiene with the goal of halting and containing cholera outbreaks. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and the Zimbabwean Red Cross Society have undertaken projects to rehabilitate water points, assist in the formation of water-point committees, and provide community training on sanitation.


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Projects and Case Studies

Projects in or about Zimbabwe

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  1. Removal of Barriers to the Introduction of Cleaner Artisanal Gold Mining and Extraction Technologies ‎(3,917 views) . . Katy.norman

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5 most recently updated publications on Zimbabwe
  1. The right to water from a political ecology perspective: the case of Zimbabwe's water reforms ‎(1,618 views) . . Katy.norman

5 most popular publications on Zimbabwe
  1. The right to water from a political ecology perspective: the case of Zimbabwe's water reforms ‎(1,618 views) . . Katy.norman

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Who is Who

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See also

External Resources



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