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Women’s Struggle to Access Water In the Face Of Water Cuts, Climate Change & Gender Disparities

By Learnmore Nyoni

Nestled 20kms north east of Harare in Goromonzi district, in Zimbabwe’s Mashonaland East Province; is Domboshava a rural to peri-urban community known for its massive horticultural production that feeds the Harare urban fresh produce market. 

Many communities in Domboshava syphon water from streams and tributaries that feed into Nyaure river to water their vegetable gardens.

It is 4 in the morning and Autilia Ngoshi of Shamu village in Domboshava is offloading the second 25 litre bucketful of water into her rondavel kitchen. She has been ignoring the back pain she has been feeling lately from these trips that are taking their toll on her now frail body.

A thinly woman in her fifties, Autilia knows that she has to take to the community borehole three times a day with the 25L bucket of water on her head, if she is to meet her daily household water needs. 

Later in the day, she will do more trips. This time with the support of her husband, to water their blossoming tomato crop.

Like Autilia, many women in Zimbabwe, as is the case in many parts of Africa, are responsible for collecting and managing this scarce precious liquid for their households. 

Rural communities depend on communal sources of water to drink, cook, bath and grow crops. Not only is water essential for daily living, but it is also the key resource necessary for unlocking the economic potential of rural communities. 

The water crisis is a global reality, with over 1.1 billion people lacking access to safe drinking water. Almost 850 000 people die annually from lack of access to good water, sanitation and hygiene. 

In Zimbabwe, access to safe water remains a challenge in both the rural and urban areas. Women and men spend hours crowded at community boreholes in Zimbabwe’s urban residential areas. Some go for no less than five days to a full week without tap water. 

Such is the case in Maglas Zvishavane where residents can go up to a week without running water.

Water Shortages Affect our Health & Sanitation Maglas, Zvishavane Women Say

The recent surge in cases of cholera, typhoid and diarrhoea,can be attributed to poor health and sanitation owing to lack of access to safe water sources.

Climate change is worsening the situation due to the increased incidences and frequencies of storms, heatwaves and droughts, leading to water scarcity. 

This affects both the lives and livelihoods through reduced crop yields and hence poor economic activity of many rural communities that are dependent on rain fed subsistence agriculture.

According to Hunger in a Heating, a recent report produced by Oxfam, Zimbabwe is one of the 10 countries most vulnerable to the risks of climate change. Zimbabwe is ranked second in the Global Climate Risk 2021 Index.

Solutions from the communities

Communities are also developing homegrown solutions to counter the problem of access to water. With funding support from Fischers Foundation, Tavona Chirindira a horticulture farmer based in Mazvihwa Zvishavane developed sand abstraction technologies to access water from dry river beds.

This easy-to-design technology brought much needed relief to the Chengwena community Garden Project run by a group of hardworking elderly women. This intervention replaces the laborious process where these women would carry bucket loads of water on their heads up a hill into their gardens. 

The Community Garden Project is located in the Gudo area, Mhototi Ward 16, under Chief Mazvihwa in rural Zvishavane.

A Sand abstraction system helps elderly women in Zvishavane access water: Video Credit Learnmore Nyoni

Fischers Foundation has over the years been helping women in Zvishavane, Mberengwa and Domboshava with easy to design water accessing technologies. 

Equity and social justice are key elements to consider when designing solutions to solve the water challenges in most rural communities in Zimbabwe.

Muonde Trust in Mazvihwa Zvishavane is training local communities in water harvesting using dead-end contours to replace the drain away contours.

Water harvesting technologies help Mazvihwa farmers access water: Video Credit Learnmore Nyoni Newsday Zimbabwe

Women and children are usually at the receiving end of water challenges since they constitute the bulk of the labourforce in fetching water from community sources that are far from their residential areas.

Sylvia Hove, Fischers Foundation co-found says her journey to helping women access water started with her borehole breaking down in 2008. 

‘When My borehole broke down, I met other women in search of water’

Pushed by the biting economy of 2008, Sylvia Hove,  a middle-class working woman living in one of Harare’s leafy suburbs of Mount Pleasant, in Harare  decided to sell off her second hand clothes to rural women at Showground shopping centre in Domboshava. 

“When my borehole broke down, I couldn’t access money from the bank during the hyperinflationary period of 2008. Banks had no money and people queued in vain for hours on end only to receive loads of zimbabwe dollars that were enough to buy a few household necessities,” Sylvia Hove said.

She chose Domboshava, because she knew that the enterprising women of Domboshava would be the only ones with cash in an economy that was reeling from the effects of runaway inflation and economic meltdown. 

Sylvia found herself amoung a group of hardworking, resourceful, resilient and happy women in Domboshava. The women bought her clothes with the money they made from selling their tomatoes. 

This opened her eyes to a new reality.

That, if rural women are fully capacitated they can run commercially vibrant enterprises. She was to learn that the main challenge in these women’s agrobusiness was access to water. 

After emigrating to the United States of America, Sylvia Hove, through Fischers Foundation, has been supporting rural women in Dombshava and beyond to use indegenous knowledge systems of water harvesting, seed banking and post-harvest crop management.

In Domboshava alone, she has capacitated women to access water and bolster their agro-entreprises in Bare, Chikokonya, Shamu and Nyakudya villages.

On the 25th of October in Manicaland, Zimbabwe will join the world in commemorating the 2023 World Food Day under the theme, “Water is life, Water is Food – leaving no one behind.” 

World Food Day is observed annually on 16 October.

Water is a common good, UN Experts say

Water as a common good. It is a basic human right, like clean air. Unfortunately water is considered  a commercial good by local authorities; both rural and urban councils.
A common good is something that benefits everyone, hence should be accessed by everyone such as clean air. UN experts argue that since water is a human right it should also be handled as a common good. Access to water and let alone safe water is a long shot for many families in rural communities. Governments and development partners need to realise that solving the water problem helps in achieving not only SDG 6 that is directly related to water, but almost all the 17 goals.

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