Climate change has affected water sources in the already drought prone Chivi district in southern Masvingo, where villagers are now turning to alternatives to try and mitigate against the effects of water shortages.
In fact, the majority of rural homesteads, not only in Chivi, or in Zimbabwe, but in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa do not have piped water, making women and girls more susceptible to the effects of climate change since they have the burden to provide water.
But in Chivi Central, the women and girls are turning to Chombwe Piped Water Rehabilitation Project to mitigate against the effects of climate change which have seen traditional water sources drying up.
Chombwe piped water scheme was established in 1972, but collapsed in the late 1990s. It was revived in 2020, with President Mnangagwa officially commissioning it in December of that year.
Water for the scheme is drawn from the perennially flowing Tugwi River, which feeds off Muzhwi Dam upstream.
The major beneficiaries of Chombwe piped water scheme are women and girls, who used to carry the burden of walking long distances in search of water in this semi-arid area.
Mrs Tsindikai Mapinduro of Mhikuro village said she used to plant crops with the summer rains, but harvesting very little to nothing.
“We had a problem of water shortages before this piped water scheme,” she said. “We used to walk for more than 10 kilometres to get some water for household chores.”
Mrs Mapinduro said she now feels effectively empowered to fight the effects of climate change.
“I have a thriving maize crop and tomato plants as you can see,” she said. “The projects I am doing at my homestead using water from Chombwe include maize and tomatoes under irrigation. I put together school fees and uniforms for my children from selling maize and tomatoes. This scheme is also beneficial to our livestock.”
Another beneficiary, Ms Ketty Belimo, has a citrus project at her homestead.
“My vision is to bring people from all over to buy citrus fruits from this homestead and in the process I will be empowering my family,” she said.
Mrs Mirirai Julius said she used to walk for several kilometres looking for water, including fetching from the crocodile infested Tugwi River, about 10 kilometres away.
Mrs Martha Phiri, a committee member of a Pfumvudza demonstration plot which uses water from Chombwe, said the piped water scheme transformed the lives of women in the area.
Another beneficiary of Chombwe piped water project, Mr Promise Chindiro, who has mobilised 28 other villagers, both men and women, to start a citrus project said the water scheme helped them move away from problems associated with drought.
“Our aim is that by 2030, all the beneficiaries should have been registered as directors of this citrus project,” he said.
While the Chombwe Piped Water Rehabilitation Project has been providing water to the villagers, it has presented some challenges to women and girls who rely on it.
The major setbacks are the constant breakdowns of the pumping engines, bursting of pipes, intermittent availability of electricity to power the pumps and lack of access to big markets.
Mrs Phiri said after harvesting maize from the Pfumvudza demonstration plot using water from Chombwe last year, they were unable to do any other farming activity because of burst pipes.
“That is why there is no crop in the demonstration plot now,” she said. “The pumping of water is very erratic.”
Mrs Phiri said they faced challenges acquiring enough seeds, fertilisers and chemicals to improve their yields.
Ms Belimo said while Chombwe was playing a great role in helping the villagers fight climate change, the scheme was not operating efficiently.
“The power outages take so long that the fruit trees’ moisture levels are affected,” she said. “We don’t have a fence to protect our trees from animals. We also need fruit tree seeds.”
Mr Chindiro said they wanted help to install a drip irrigation system for the community citrus fruit project.
Chivi Rural District Council plumber for the project, Mr Rokin Vhinyu, said he had been witnessing women and girls resorting to walking for long distances looking for water after faults and burst pipes at Chombwe.
“We need to be empowered with transport so that we can attend to faults quickly to avoid situations where women resort to walking long distances in search of water,” he said.
Chivi Rural District Council chief executive officer Mr Tariro Matavire said there were various challenges facing women’s projects relying on Chombwe piped water project, slowing efforts to fight effects of climate change.
“The major challenge is that the project needs constant rehabilitation,” he said. “We used new and old equipment and when we pump water we sometimes experience breakdowns, mostly on old pipes.
“At one time we encountered a problem of vandalism soon after we had bought some pipes. Electricity charges are also quite high. We are paying almost $550 000 per two weeks and this is another area which we need to engage beneficiaries.”
Mr Matavire said many other women were being shut out of the piped water scheme because of lack of funds.
“The money should run the scheme and cover costs including electricity charges, maintenance costs and paying for labour,” he said.
Mrs Tambudzai Chikore is one of those women failing to be hooked onto the pipeline because she does not have money paid to join.
There are a number of similar piped water schemes in other districts of Zimbabwe, as the government and its development partners move to mitigate against the effects of climate change, but they all face similar challenges.
The Nyamajura community piped water scheme in Mutare Rural District in Manicaland province, that was resuscitated in 2018 after it had collapsed in the 1980s, is one such project.
One of the beneficiaries, Mrs Sarah Sunhwa, was recently quoted as saying while the project brought relief, many women were being left out because they were supposed to pay for maintenance, yet they did not have the funds.
Pambe piped water scheme in Mwenezi district is another documented project similar to Chombwe piped water scheme.
Women in this area have embarked on nutrition gardens using water from the scheme.
It is not only in Zimbabwe where piped water projects are becoming a popular way of fighting the effects of climate change, as many other countries in sub-Saharan Africa rely on such schemes.
Research carried out by Stanford University recently revealed that women and girls in Zambia were increasingly turning to piped water schemes that bring water near their homes as a way of fighting the effects of climate change.
But just like Chombwe, the Stanford research carried out in southern Zambia revealed that problems associated with piped water projects include constant breakdowns of machinery, burst pipes and the huge costs of repairs and maintenance.
Climate change experts believe that piped water projects can play an important role in helping women and girls mitigate against the effects of climate change, but noted the problems they always encounter.
Director for the Climate Change Management Department in the Ministry of Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry Mr Washington Zhakata said climate change extremes could bring both positives and negatives.
They can bring abundant water, but the water can be a source of contamination of water sources like wells and rivers, he said.
The major challenges relate to costs.
“The water maybe from boreholes and it may also require to be drawn out using electricity or solar pumps, all that requires resources which in some cases those affected in the communities may not afford,” said Mr Zhakata.
“When there are breakdowns in the piping you may find some people not managing to service and repair those pipes. They then look for water elsewhere up until you get resources sufficient enough to make the requisite repairs to that piping system.”
Chief director responsible for Agricultural Advisory Services in the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development Professor Obert Jiri said southern Africa had seen a slight decrease in rainfall, with temperatures increasing marginally.
This affects mostly women, especially those in the rural areas who have to work extra hard to provide their families with water for different uses at home.
“We, therefore, advocate for irrigation development and making sure that production is climate-proofed that way,” said Prof Jiri. “So, yes, definitely, irrigation becomes a climate proofing strategy which is very, very impactful.
“Obviously, the problems that come with it are related to cost of conveyance or conveying the water to where it is required.”
*This story was funded by the Women in News SIRI Real Grant Project