Addressing Climate Change Threats to Zimbabwe’s Water Resources

February 20, 2015

Photo: Ninara/Flickr Creative Commons

  • Zimbabwe faces a wide range of water challenges that can be exacerbated by climate change, from supply shortages to falling groundwater levels.
  • The World Bank Group is working with the government to address climate threats and their implications for water availability by integrating sustainable water development and management into national strategies.
  • A new paper examines water management in Zimbabwe through case studies from cities, irrigation and power projects and suggests a range of adaptation measures.

Water is a core development issue in Zimbabwe, a mostly semi-arid country with limited water resources. It is also an emotional topic. 

Over the past decade, newspaper headlines have reflected a wide range of water challenges, from shortages to breakdowns in wastewater services to falling groundwater levels. Droughts affect rural and urban water supplies, food security, and energy production and industrial output and disrupt livelihoods.  Recurring floods and cyclone-driven flooding damages property, infrastructure, livelihoods and lives. The country has also dealt with epidemics of cholera, typhoid, and other water-borne diseases, and surface and ground water pollution has been a concern. 

Because of the intimate relationship between water and the country’s major economic sectors, sustainable water development and management is a necessary condition for economic recovery. 

The World Bank Group is working with the Zimbabwe government to address climate threats and their implications for water availability by integrating sustainable water development and management into the country’s National Climate Change Response Strategy and into the proposed National Climate Policy.

Water, agriculture and energy sector impacts

A new World Bank Group paper on climate change and water resources planning, development and management in Zimbabwe, requested by the government, reviews the broad links between climate and the hydrological cycle and water management and case studies from cities, irrigation and hydropower projects and recommends a range of adaptation measures.

It projects by 2050 significant reduction is rainfall, river flows and groundwater recharge, with the highest impacts on the driest water catchments of southern Zimbabwe.

It encourages policymakers to develop an integrated climate change strategy for those sectors most affected by climate change: water and agriculture.  It also recommends rehabilitating and expanding water supply and water resources infrastructure, focusing greater attention to the management and development of groundwater as well as improving water use efficiency, encouraging conservation and water recycling, and improving design standards to build resilience into infrastructure such as dams, levees and bridges, among other steps.

Promoting climate-smart rain-fed agriculture and rehabilitating and improving irrigation are urgent priorities for food security, particularly for the country’s most water-stressed areas in the south. About 80 percent of Zimbabweans depend on rain-fed agriculture, and the sector employs the majority of the population. The World Bank has agreed to support the preparation of a National Water Resources and Irrigation Master Plan integrating detailed climate change modeling and analysis into the planning process.

In addition to the central role of water in Zimbabwe’s agricultural sector, water availability also has direct social and economic implications for other sectors such as health and energy. Energy production, which underpins most other production sectors, relies largely on the flow of the Zambezi River either for hydropower generation or for the cooling of thermal power stations. Industrial output from many agricultural processing industries also relies on power availability and on water for processing. Zimbabwe’s mining sector ultimately relies on water for both processing and electricity production, as well.

Zimbabwe’s national strategy will mainstream an integrated response to climate change across all key economic sectors in order to minimize detrimental impacts and seize economic and social opportunities.

Building resilience to climate related hazards

The World Bank Group paper highlights how human-induced climate change is likely to intensify natural climate variability in Zimbabwe. Per capita water availability is forecast to fall by as much as 38 percent by 2050, even under a low population growth rate.

“Zimbabwe will inevitably be affected by global warming and so must focus on adapting to these impacts before they seriously affect the country and its economy,” Zimbabwe Minister for Environment, Water and Climate Saviour Kusukuwere wrote in the preface to the report. “The technical assistance from the World Bank and other development partners in preparing this paper is highly appreciated.”

While weather-related disasters strike rich and poor countries alike, they are often most crippling for smaller and lower-income countries that are least able to cope. Among the most vulnerable are some of Africa’s poorest nations. The social and economic impacts of these climate shocks can have severe consequences for development.

The World Bank Group helps countries build resilience against weather-related disasters and find innovative solutions for protecting lives and livelihoods and decreasing losses and damages to public and private property and critical infrastructure. This year, the Bank Group is also focusing research and analysis on the effects of climate change on poverty and developing policy guidance and recommendations for governments to help populations get through climate shocks with more of their assets intact.