Eventually, Government had to come around and recognise the significance of preventing rainwater from going to waste by collecting it for better use in the future, on a large-scale. Not a novelty. Rainwater harvesting is an age-old technique.
But we were encouraged last week to hear Environment and Water Minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri outline a series of projects she hopes to have fast-tracked to life under a 100-day plan set by the Government.
It is both a direct response to climate change and economic expectation.
Mrs Muchinguri-Kashiri has six quick-win programmes in mind —one of them water harvesting, a practice of collecting water when it rains, often with the simplest of technologies, before storing it for future domestic or agricultural use.
A certain amount of scepticism is even less surprising when one considers public interventions in agriculture in years gone past. For example, so much of the equipment from a $200 million Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe project to mechanise agriculture 10 years ago, mostly benefited powerful politicians, who could not be tracked or held accountable for abusing material acquired from public funds.
The original intention by the RBZ was, predominantly, to equip smallholder farmers with an array of farming equipment, from disc harrows to diesel to tractors, to boost production. Now, it is important to build confidence in the new project.
We also know that there is a new work ethic centred on delivery by public office holders, at least that’s what can be noticed since November 15, when Zimbabwe appeared re-born. So, we have no doubt that Minister Muchinguri-Kashiri, with her experience in Government, will deliver the necessary change needed to build resilience against climate change in the water sector.
Mrs Muchinguri-Kashiri did not provide figures, so it’s not clear yet how much this project will cost. She spoke of how water harvesting was part of a broader strategy by Government to tame climate change-induced water shortages in the home and in agriculture: improve livelihoods as support economic growth. It is an ambitious plan, by any measure, that will obviously need more than just 100 days to come full circle. Nonetheless, a commendable plan, one that aims to promote climate change adaptation through water resources management, a more efficient use of the treasured resource.
To achieve the pre-determined household food security targets, by improving water access for farming, Mrs Muchinguri-Kashiri will not only have to tightly monitor the execution of her quick-turnaround strategy, but also create solid partnerships with well-funded NGOs and the private sector.
Think about an urban household — where safe water supply remains a nightmare — intending to harvest rainwater. The urban individual harvester of rain would require a series of gutters, a connection and a tank. Depending on tank size, the equipment could set one back between $2 000 and $5 000.
It is likely the Water Ministry will implement its programme at community-scale, and not at the individual level in view of the related costs. This is where partnerships are handy. Its common cause public spending for the environment, water and climate sectors has been cut several fold since 2012, until this year when Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa doubled it to $85 million.
However, for the urban household, the advent of plastic tanks in different sizes has reduced costs, and the specialist building skills that were previously needed for putting up concrete structures no longer necessary. Countries like Kenya have legislated for similar rainwater technologies in all new commercial construction projects.
In 1973, Mr Phiri opened his first pond, “having discovered that vlei hydrology was not the ‘sponge’ of Rhodesian hydrologists, but the bands of clay brought water to the surface and these could be used to make dam walls that prevented water loss when it was abundant.” Ponds enabled holding more water in the vlei, without water-logging the soils,” according to the Muonde Trust website, a dedicated site for promoting Phiri’s work.
By 1983, Phiri had constructed two additional dams of combined storage capacity 1,5 million litres while he continued to diversify, starting projects in bee keeping, reed and fruit sales, as well as developing safe farming methods that protect soil fertility.
Stimulated by the experiments with sand filtration using concrete rings, Mr Phiri discovered in 1987 the concept of “Phiri pits” – holes in contour trenches where water accumulates, designed to drive water infiltration deep into the soils up-slope to feed down-slope fields later in the season, says the Muonde Trust. During the 1980s and 1990s, he placed Phiri pits across his land. Many villagers followed his example.
We are not to assume Mrs Muchinguri-Kashiri will pursue Mr Phiri’s strategy. In any case, the Environment and Water Ministry has already laid out her plan, which is centred around roof-top rainwater harvesting, among others. But Phiri’s work earned the man worldwide acclaim, gaining widespread adoption outside Zimbabwe.
He was the quintessential water harvester from whom much can be learned, even by governments.