Water Resources Management (WRM) is the process of planning, developing, and managing water resources, in terms of both water quantity and quality, across all water uses. It includes the institutions, infrastructure, incentives, and information systems that support and guide water management (www.worldbank.org/en/topic/waterresourcesmanagement). Decentralization refers to the transfer of state/national responsibilities or functions from central government to sub-national levels of government, or from central agencies/offices to regional bodies or branch offices, or to non-governmental organizations or private concerns. It can be described as “the redefinition of structures, procedures and practices of governance to be closer to the citizenry” (www.citeseerx.ist.psu.edu). It involves the shifting of fiscal, political and administrative responsibilities from higher levels to lower levels of government ( www.worldbank.org).
In the past Zimbabwe’s water sector was dominated by the Department of Water Development, large commercial farmers, urban councils, and the Zambezi River Authority, and mining companies. Centred on River Boards, entities such as commercial farmers were awarded water rights, under the Water Act (1976). This regulatory framework left out most rural communities in terms of participation in decision making as the District Development Fund (DDF) and Rural District Councils (RDC) made decisions as to where to drill boreholes. The DDF, a centralised institutions with its own structures and represented by units at district level was for a long time the infrastructure provider for rural communities (water included) and was the key institution under the water and sanitation programmes. For the most part, this institution did not consult the local communities. This top-down institution was disbanded and the district level units and equipment incorporated into the RDCs. RDCs are provided for under Zimbabwean legislation as the equivalent of urban councils and are responsible for all development in the rural areas. This is an institution with a long history of limited capital support, limited capacity, poor financial base, and liable to make decisions on the basis of politics rather than pragmatism. While well positioned to involve rural communities the provision of services such as water is often affected by the lack of capital and political interference. In the end the decision to provide water is not necessarily based on the specific needs of specific communities and often times NGOs have stepped in to cover the neglected areas.
One way of promoting more efficient and sustainable utilization of water is through stakeholder involvement in water management at the catchment scale. The idea behind this approach is to enhance greater participation at the catchment level, thereby increasing the sense of ownership among users and promoting sustainable and efficient use and environmental protection.
Water management has been decentralized to stakeholder-managed Catchment Councils (CCs) and Sub-Catchment Councils (SCCs). Under the present arrangements, a new framework for water management has been formed to:
• involve stakeholders in water management;
• replace water rights with water permits, which expire after a set period;
• create more efficient water allocation processes;
• develop catchment water use plans, with the full participation of stakeholders;
• treat the environment as a legitimate user;
• form new stakeholder-driven institutions to facilitate more efficient water management.
As a result of these developments, CCs and SCCs were formed as key institutions to manage water affairs on the ground on a day-to-day basis. The Zimbabwe National Water Authority (ZINWA) was formed with the primary role of taking over the commercial functions of the Department of Water Development. CCs were established for the management of the seven demarcated catchment areas in Zimbabwe. A CC consists of representatives of lower-level catchment management institutions. The main responsibilities of CCs are to:
• prepare a catchment management plan, in consultation with the stakeholders, for the river system; grant permits for water use;
• regulate and supervise water use;
• supervise the performance of SCCs;
• resolve conflicts within their areas of jurisdiction.
SCCs were formed to facilitate water management on a smaller scale. SCCs consist of representatives of the various water users within the sub-catchment. Representatives from each SCC form the CC, thereby representing their constituents at the sub-catchment scale.
The main functions of SCCs are to:
• regulate and supervise the implementation of permits, including groundwater use;
• monitor water flows and use, in accordance with allocations by the CC;
• provide representatives for the CC;
• promote catchment protection;
• monitor water discharge;
• assist in data collection and participate in catchment planning;
• collect rates and fees for all permits issued.
While the framework for a perfect water management system exists, the situation on the ground does not reflect this common belief. The decentralization process has not taken off as expected owing to a combination of factors.
The water sector reforms in Zimbabwe were largely donor-driven. There was therefore an opportunity for maximum interaction between the donor organizations and the beneficiary catchments. However, by the time the CCs were to be fully launched, only one donor remained available to support two of the seven catchments, and that donor was in the process of removing its support. A number of stakeholders lost confidence in the process and pulled out. CCs were not yet financially autonomous, and withdrawal of donor support in both financial and technical areas was unforeseen. Without a good financial base, CC activities were doomed to fail, with participation restricted to voluntary work.
Other national programmes:
The launching of the water reform process coincided with the land reform process in Zimbabwe. The water sector reforms were aimed at promoting equitable and sustainable utilization with more participation of stakeholders and the introduction of the user pays principle. The land reform programme aimed to redistribute land and to encourage greater utilization of the national land resource. The movement of farmers in and out of farms resulted in the water sector losing track of who was consuming water. In some cases, there were more settlers on a property for which a permit had previously been issued to one user. The reallocation of these permits to additional users resulted in many conflicts. New settlers were more involved in affirming their claim to the new properties than in attending water management meetings. Water issues were set aside as the land reform exercise gained more traction.
The water sector reforms intended to implement the user pays and polluter pays principles. In this respect, permit holders would pay a fee, which was to contribute to water services provision. The Water Fund was created through the Water Act (1998) to facilitate the collection of levies, fees, government contributions and any other support towards water service provision. The government would also contribute to the Water Fund, using public funds allocated from the main government budget. Inflows into the Water Fund have been minimal due to a number of issues, cessation of donor contributions, farmers not paying for their permits as they were uncertain as to their continuing occupancy on their land with respect to the new land reforms. Increased government responsibilities meant that less and less money was allocated to the Water Fund from the national budget. Similarly, new farmers were reluctant to pay for water use, as water rights had not been paid for previously. Most of the new commercial water users believed that water is a God-given resource, and therefore there is no need to pay for access to it.
The diminishing sources of contributions into the Water Fund therefore meant that there was very little money available to support water service provision and management.
Weak institutional linkages:
The new Water Act provided a better framework for stronger institutional linkages. It is now a requirement that a number of institutions be consulted before permits for water use can be issued. However, there is little evidence to prove that this is bearing fruit. Not all institutions give priority to water issues. Some continue with their previous approach to water management where their support cannot be fully guaranteed unless they are certain of deriving substantial and direct benefits from their participation.
Lack of capacity within key institutions:
Key institutions, especially ZINWA, are not adequately staffed to cope with the sudden demands for the provision of expert services. The staffing levels of ZINWA fall short of expected levels, as does the level of expertise. The result is that ZINWA cannot provide sufficient personnel to provide commercial services, nor can it provide statutory functions with funding sourced from the Water Fund. With staffing levels inadequate and depth of expertise questionable, it is uncertain if sufficient funds from the Water Fund would have made much difference to this situation.
Other key institutions, such as the Department of Natural Resources, Agricultural Research and Extension Services (AREX), the Ministry of Water and Rural Development and the Ministry of Lands and Resettlement, are also experiencing inadequate staffing levels that have a negative impact on the whole process.
Remuneration for participants:
CC and SCC representatives have not been paid directly for their input into water affairs. They were only compensated for travel and subsistence. When finances became scarce, the frequency of meetings was reduced, and user groups were merged to cut down on expenses. This meant that stakeholders could not meet as often as was desirable to discuss water management issues. This new approach was designed to cut down costs, however, consideration was not given to the main objective of providing more efficient water management at the catchment level.
Lack of enforcement of legislation:
The new Water Act has been described as technically sound with a solid base for sustainable and efficient utilization of water resources. However, some vital sections of the act have not been fully enforced, hence, its founding principles cannot be supported. The Water Fund is collecting insufficient revenue adequately to support statutory functions. ZINWA is not financially viable, as the four main accounts that were created (raw water account, clear water account, engineering services account and water levy account) are not self-sustaining, hence the new institution has to rely on the government for financial support. In the process, key and experienced staff have left the organization owing to the working environment.
Similarly, Catchment Outline Plans (COPs) have not been developed in accordance with Section 12 of the Water Act (1998). COPs are to be developed by stakeholders, and should serve as a guide on water management within their catchment areas, as well as on the interventions to take in the event of scarcity, and therefore excess demand. Water quality issues and environmental aspects are also covered in the COPs. The reasons for non-development of the COPs range from a lack of capacity for their development, financial constraints and general lack of coordination among stakeholders.
In the meantime, water permits cannot be issued in the absence of approved plans, and the objectives of the reform process cannot be fully realized.
Different levels of appreciation of water:
Water management representatives are from local authorities, industry, commercial farmers, communal farmers and other interested parties. While all representatives were expected to sit at the same table to discuss water affairs, it was clear that the priority of each group was to protect its own interests. Communal farmers were the weakest and most disadvantaged sector, with the least appreciation of water for commercial use. They were not given equal access to the resource, despite management being conducted through SCCs, which were believed to involve such vulnerable user groups.
Politics always plays a role in the success or failure of any process. In this case, there was a marked political influence in the pricing of water. In a bid to retain popularity, politicians aimed to keep the price of water as low as possible. Politicians frustrated the implementation of the pricing policy, which cannot afford to subsidize water service provision to maintain standards in good water service delivery. Defaulters of payments for water permits were protected against disconnection through the political influence of politicians. Political influence is also a factor in project choice and implementation where development is driven by political balance rather than economics. It has been noted by Shwatuk (2002) that the government was adding to its expenditure on military interventions in other countries when there were no public funds available for reticulation and sanitation systems.
The opponents of decentralisation on the other hand offer counter-arguments to almost all the positive assumptions made by the supporters of decentralisation.65 Smith (1985) states that decentralisation appears to be separatist as it threatens the unity of the general will, reinforces narrow sectional interests especially and encourages development inequalities among others, due to its emphasis on local autonomy.66 Another argument is that decentralisation requires administrative reform and training of local actors which is in itself expensive, not to mention risky.67 The critics furthermore criticise its validity. They argue that most of the positive things arrogated to decentralisation are rhetorical and have no provable empirical basis. According to the critics decentralisation does not automatically promote accountability and public participation.71 Fifthly the critics express some doubt as to the contribution of decentralisation to socio-economic development and poverty reduction. According to them many African states have implemented decentralisation and rural development programmes aimed at poverty reduction throughout the 1970’s and the 1980’s, but still majority of them are still poor or even poorer.