Feature: Community water points face land degradation threat

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Automated water access point

BY TONDERAYI MATONHO
Land degradation around community water points such as natural wells and boreholes, whether in urban, rural or peri-urban communities, is increasing over time due to growing pressures from residents as they rush for scarce water sources, it has emerged.

Boreholes and natural wells constructed or in existence around plush and leafy areas now stand on degraded and barren land, exposing poor local governance systems and weak environmental conservation awareness among residents.

Environmental experts point out that this has further given rise to poor water and sanitation systems, negative community environmental outlooks and the general socio-economic conditions of urban, peri-urban and rural communities.

People fetching water at a borehole

“There has been little or no effort at all to address the barren and degraded land around community water points by local authorities, civil society groups or even the residents themselves”, said Ruben Akili, regional advocacy officer for the Combined Harare Residents Association (CHRA), in a recent interview.

“The rush has been mainly and merely for resource consumption without taking cognisance of the deteriorating environment and the attendant climate change threats,” he stressed.

Consistent water supply has become a central concern for local citizens and this concern has created another glaring, but “unseen” challenge — increasing climate change threats in the form of degraded land and loss of aquatic life and wealth.

Current evidence shows that many boreholes have been sunk in urban, peri-urban and even rural communities and more will be sunk as a panacea to persistent water supply shortages.

Natural water springs or pools also stand as critical water points for local communities. However, they are also threatened by neglect and lack of effective conservation measures.

“As citizens look forward to achieving United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (2015-2030), strong sustainability is impossible to achieve, locally or globally without the foregoing resource abuse by local communities and poor local governance systems,” said Akili.

Against this background, there is need to address the issue of land degradation and the negative environmental impact around these water sources in urban, peri-urban and rural communities.

“Most local communities are now highly urbanised or urbanising and contribute, therefore, to the notion that urban or peri-urban settlements are the most unsustainable part of modern civilisation,” said Joseph Tasosa, a seasoned environmental conservationist.

“It is possible to argue that cities and urbanisation are a critical part, if not the main environmental threat in the 21st century,” he said.

Such scenarios, therefore, call for the need to promote community tree and vegetation planting efforts by citizens towards the equitable and sustainable utilisation of available land resources around community water sources.

The World Bank notes that about 50%-60% of poor communities in developing countries are living in urban and emerging settlements since the start of the new millennium, and indeed, consumption and pollution levels are increasing.

Many of these local communities are suffering from water scarcity, land degradation and, therefore, are exposed to high environmental risks.

This trend towards urbanisation is unstoppable and should be seen as an opportunity and not as a problem, according to many social analysts.

They acknowledge that on the whole, urban and peri-urban settlements are deeply unsustainable because of several factors.

“The high levels of energy consumption, waste production and disposal, air and water pollution and overcrowding, not to mention the problems of under-employment, social disruption and poor housing and infrastructure are all contributing to land and environmental degradation around critical residential water points,” said Bulawayo-based Philemon Simwaba, a social worker and disability specialist.

However, he pointed out that cities, peri-urban and rural communities are the main engines for economic growth all over the world.

The advantages of scale from having a large number of people in a small space are among the factors that can explain such outcomes.

In order to provide an oversight and assist in creating and raising awareness of the degraded land around community water supply sources to policymakers and help find solutions to the causes of the degradation of land and its resources around them, urban and rural planners and politicians need also to broadly consult civil society and local communities, the poor and the better-off.

“As a consortium, they need to indicate the open land pressure issues prevalent at and around community water supply sources, assess the direct and indirect negative impacts of land degradation around these areas in order to design socially and environmentally sensitive actions and to minimise conflict,” said Harare’s ward 46 councillor, Stuart Wutawunashe.

“There is need to assess and provide raw materials, and the regenerative potential and the impact of the tree and vegetative species required locally to reclaim the degraded land around community water supply sources” he said.

Furthermore, they can also facilitate the provision of a localised environmental conservation and rehabilitation programme that will help create an ecological balance, acting as a protective shield for maintaining soil fertility; sheltering the land against the hazards of soil erosion, desertification, floods, waste disposals and climate change.

Social analysts further point out that water management and supply systems in urban, peri-urban and rural communities are facing the challenge of variations in water availability and quality.

The Zimbabwe Coalition for Debt and Development, a local citizens’ pressure group, also notes that such unfavourable community environmental outcomes are a result of increased demand from competing and often conflicting resource use agendas.

This calls for more efficiency in water use and management by local communities and equitable allocation by the local authorities with more effective local good governance principles and holistic monitoring processes being effectively applied.