A Preliminary Inventory

Assessment of Integrated Water Resources Management Activities in the Southern Africa Region

Institute of Water and Sanitation Development, Zimbabwe

All responses to this article should be sent to :
Jerry Ndamba at IHE@mango.zw

1. Introduction

In the Southern Africa region we recognise now more than ever the limited nature of the water resource of the region and the need to manage it effectively. Many country-specific, bilateral and region-wide initiatives have been launched since the drought of 1992, such as the creation of the SADC Water Sector, and its Co-ordination Unit in Lesotho, the signing of the Protocol on Shared Water Resources, the active presence of the Global Water Partnership, and the organisation of the Round Table Initiative spearheaded by UNDP and SADC Water.

The Institute of Water and Sanitation Development, Harare is currently carrying out an assessment of Integrated Water Resources Management activities in the Southern African Region. Integrated Water Resources Management is a relatively new concept, and there is little knowledge of how each country is approaching integrated water resources management problems, what research is being carried out, and what each country’s comparative strengths are. The fact that many SADC countries share international river basins adds to the need for co-operation in integrated water resources management. (See box .)

Integrated Water Resources Management:

  • considers the hydrological cycle in its entirety; downstream and upstream interests are taken into account (basin-wide, also across national borders), as well as surface and groundwater sources, and, most importantly, rainfall;
  • considers the full range of sectoral interests; allocation decisions entail a process whereby all relevant objectives and constraints of society are considered, and, if necessary, priority-setting is made by weighing the objectives in an informed and transparent manner. Integrated management implies, among other things, close co-ordination between institutions that are often sectorally defined, the involvement of stakeholders in decision-making, and taking into account those stakeholders without a voice (such as the environment);
  • considers future needs as legitimate claims to the water resource, such as future generations.

In this context of rapid change, a number of questions arise: How are we balancing the many interests involved in water? On what basis are we going to decide in favour of certain developments at the expense of others? How are we going to co-ordinate between ministries? What are possible institutional and legal set-ups? What kind of data sets do we need, and what type of plans? And, importantly, which type of experts are required to set up monitoring systems, compile reports, make assessments, and decide which information our policy makers need to make balanced decisions? Will the public accept these? How are we going to ensure that the public owns the problems related to water such that they may identify with the difficult decisions that have to be made?

Putting in place effective and equitable management practices at political, institutional and technical levels requires sufficient human resources capacity of adequately trained staff. Moreover, as was emphasised during the recent SADC-EU conference in Maseru in May 1997, it is necessary to level the capacities at a regional scale by combining the comparative strengths in specific fields throughout the region. Furthermore, regional networking through education, research and joint studies is an important asset to build mutual trust and will be essential for successful implementation of regional activities such as the Protocol on Shared Water.

Integrated Water Resources Management: experiences from selected SADC rivers

First steps have been taken by individual basin countries towards IWRM, but overarching approach is in its infancy. Political will exists through SADC, some progress has been made on legal aspects (Protocol), but bureaucratic procedures hamper progress on institutional aspects and financial commitments. Implementation of Protocol is urgently called for. Progress on an operational and basin-wide river basin institution has been disappointing. Some progress has been made towards technical co-operation, but a shared monitoring system is not yet operational.

Incomati & Limpopo

Within the individual basin countries concerns have centred on water quantity issues only, and development has been equated with storage dams. The good intentions of economic co-operation and solidarity require translation into concrete action, both from up- and down-stream countries, and resources committed. No progress is possible unless the Protocol is implemented and all basin states agree on the definition of a basin. Existing JTCs need new impetus and in both rivers basin-wide institutions are urgently required. Though weak, technical co-operation has provided continuity during the 1980s. Data exchange and joint monitoring should be perfected; while human resources capacity of weaker countries needs strengthening. At present, the sharing of water is unbalanced with absolute scarcity precluding win-win solutions. Wider negotiations are therefore needed, but historical injustices need to be settled.


Important progress is being made with IWRM in the three main basin countries; but demand for water may not jeopardise environmental concerns. Political commitment between RSA and Lesotho is exemplified by the LHDP while Namibia is being drawn into basin development. The Orange poses some legal dilemmas (Botswana; rights of Namibia); but the current water reform in RSA is a positive development. The lack of a basin-wide institution is surprising. Technical co-operation is fairly strong; the differences between Lesotho and RSA (size, capacity) need to be addressed. The balanced sharing of the Orange water is through a huge unconventional deal, not without risks but apparently win-win.

  Source: EU-SADC Conference on Shared river Basins, Maseru, May 1997

It follows from the above that the efficient and equitable use and management of the water resource depends on:

(A) the understanding of the physical processes involved;

(B) the understanding of the variety of societal needs for water;

(C) the decision-making processes involved in influencing demand for and supply of water, as well as in allocating the water.

The present assessment study aims to fill some of these knowledge gaps. As a first step of this assessment we developed a short, open-ended questionnaire. On the basis of the responses to this survey, we have drawn up the present ‘Preliminary Inventory’. This inventory charts out more precisely the pertinent issues concerning Integrated Water Resources Management in our region, by formulating a number of key questions. A second round consultation, which can be more specific, will explore regional opportunities for capacity building in more detail.

2. The survey

On 22 July 1997, we sent out 145 questionnaires to selected persons and institutions in the Southern Africa region (see Annexes). By 15 September 1997, we had received 13 filled out forms. During the Water Africa ’97 conference held in Harare from 15 to 18 September 1997, we interviewed persons representing 4 organisations which had not responded to our questionnaire. In sum, the questionnaires received and interviews held covered the following countries: Botswana (1), Malawi (1), Mauritius (1), Namibia (1), South Africa (4), Tanzania (1), Zambia (4), and Zimbabwe (4).

The returned forms were filled out by the following types of organisations: Government (4, of which one: 'Government, evolving into a corporate body'), Parastatal (2), University/ educational institution (5), Research institutes (3), Private (2), International NGO (1).

Despite the disappointing number of respondents, the distribution of those who did respond over the region and the variety of organisations they represent makes it nevertheless a worthwhile exercise. The following provides a summary of the major findings of the survey.

On-going activity

The development of group decision support methods to facilitate participative water resource management

A research institution in South Africa

3. On-going activities

In many countries of the region the water sector is currently being reformed. There is in fact a remarkable convergence of issues that are tackled through these reform activities, including the setting up of quasi autonomous bodies charged with operational tasks while government departments retain policy-making, planning and monitoring/enforcement tasks, as well as concomitant legal reform.

In Zimbabwe, a collaborative programme for capacity building in the water sector of Zimbabwe and the Southern Africa region was recently launched. The project aims to improve the sustainable development of water resources in the region through the production of senior level professionals, the provision of in-service training and the input of research and information to policy and strategy formulation.

The collaborating institutions in Zimbabwe are the Institute of Water and Sanitation Development and the University of Zimbabwe, Department of Civil Engineering, Harare and the International Institute for Infrastructural, Hydraulic and Environmental Engineering (IHE), Delft, The Netherlands. The project is being supported by the Government of the Netherlands over a period of five years. With the assistance of the technical support from the Netherlands, the two Zimbabwean collaborating partners will implement a programme of education, training and research with Zimbabwean and regional professionals. In particular the project will support the development of a Masters programme in Water Resources Engineering and Management at the University of Zimbabwe, the presentation of short courses by the IWSD, implementation of priority research in water resources management and education of professionals to Masters and PhD level in the Netherlands and in Zimbabwe.

Some missing elements

  • Coordination among the institutions dealing with IWRM; and coordination between the various stakeholders. (Zambia)
  • The creation of a regulatory agency/body (Namibia)
  • Lack of common vision at the ministerial level of the sectoral departments involved in IWRM (South Africa)
  • Institutional coordination, effective communication between public, private, NGO organisations, and effective stakeholder participation (Zimbabwe)
  • Monitoring of water quality and of groundwater utilisation; enforcement and policing against water pollutors (Zimbabwe)

A point of convergence is the catchment area or river basin as the basic unit of administering water related issues. Malawi has created three Regional Water Boards. In Zimbabwe, catchment authorities will be given important operational tasks, while South Africa is emphasising the need for integrated catchment management. Moreover, various respondents indicate that countries are attempting to change their approach to water development from supply-oriented to demand management. Moreover, environmental concerns have become an important and integral part of the water sector’s agenda.

These important and fundamental changes in the water sector not only require new skills from present staff, but may well imply the recruitment of fairly large numbers of new staff by decentralised organisations. However, as yet no quantitative figures are available. Apart from country-specific activities, also a number of important regional activities are mentioned, such as the SADC Protocol on Shared Watercourses, the setting up of the SADC Water Sector, the active involvement of the Global Water Partnership in issues of Integrated Water Resources Management in Southern Africa. Moreover, regional studies are undertaken, for instance on wetlands of the Zambezi Basin, and on water demand management in SADC.

New questions:

3.1. How can research and training institutions in the region contribute to the development of effective regional institutions and co-ordination?

3.2. In which ways can this strength be made to work coherently?

4. The most important missing elements of IWRM

The most frequently mentioned missing element in IWRM is coordination, and related lack of integration and lack of common vision between government bodies. Education and training should have an important role to improve this missing element. The lack of links between grass roots and highest levels, and the purported lack of understanding between scientists and policy makers are other clear manifestations of this missing element. What has been suggested by some as a solution is the creation of regulatory bodies and institutional systems for implementation.

Another missing element at the policy level is monitoring of actual water utilisation (in particular of groundwater) and of water pollution. Related to this is a lack of enforcement observed in countries, in particular with respect to water quality. An emerging conclusion is that the public itself should become involved in monitoring. Monitoring systems relevant to, and appropriate for, grass roots levels should be developed. This is likely to be tied into the development of effective catchment management systems involving stakeholders in planning and decision making.

Then there are missing elements at the technical level: relevant data sets, rational charging policies, water conservation, demand management, and the use of computer models in decision-making.

New question:

4.1. What concrete steps in the fields of research and training can be taken that will facilitate the coordination of water resources management?

5. New areas of research

A number of new areas of research have been suggested by the respondents. These new areas may be conveniently grouped into five categories:

Research into physical and technical properties

  • Low cost treatment technologies for water treatment
  • Sewerage: The sewer-free city, time and technology targets; Strategies towards limiting waste dumping through e.g. recycling and more efficient forms of production; Development of standards for discharge of waste water in various media and for re-use in agriculture; Low cost treatment of sewerage, including wetlands. Economic uses of sludge.
  • Defluorization
  • Low cost treatment technologies for water recycling
  • Hydrology: Regional hydrological response to climate change ( i.e. global warming ); Run-off retention in urban areas; Assessment of evaporation from vegetation and from water surfaces; River basin research; Low flow regimes (droughts/drought mitigation)
  • Groundwater focus: relationship between ground and surface water in both dolomitic and doloritic geology; 3D aquifer models
  • Irrigation: Methods to assess water use efficiency over various crops/cropping systems
  • Research into data and information systems, including data gathering, processing, storage, analysis, and dissemination
  • Use of computer models in decision support
  • Research into community advocacy and involvement in water resources management
  • Community participation, advocacy and the processes of informing and influencing political processes regarding the water sector
  • Public awareness in development and management rational of water resources as relates to internationally shared watercourse systems
  • Research into planning and management, and of operational modalities of IWRM
  • Gender dimensions in water resources management
  • Resource investigations and feasibility studies or strategic planning studies
  • Best management practices on rural land and urban settlement
  • Private sector/public sector partnerships in WRM
  • Groundwater management
  • Water demand management
  • Mitigation of urban disamenity
  • Water and environmental linkages
  • Resource economics

New questions:

5.1. How can the above research ideas be turned into real research projects?

5.2. How can we facilitate effective exchange of information on research programmes and their findings?

6. Training needs

Respondents are concerned with the increasing need of up-to-date training in face of the transformation of the water sector. A fairly consistent picture emerges out of the returned questionnaires. First of all there is a need to train all stakeholders, from the grass roots, technicians, engineers, up to the parliamentarians.

Four specific areas are identified where needs for training are especially high:

1. Short refresher courses for higher professionals in decision-making positions

2. Training at grass roots level

3. Post-graduate programmes for higher staff in fields such as hydrology

4. Training of technical/support staff

The training curriculum should address:

-general principles of integrated water resources management

-planning and management, including demand management

-information technology

-specialised training in e.g. geology, hydrology, chemistry, limnology, resource economics.

Training needs

  • Training & education at all levels of society from grass roots up to parliament
  • Re-orientation from a supply based ethos to a demand management ethos amongst existing government officials and consultants.
  • Sector driven and accredited training programmes aimed at operator and management levels
  • Capacity building at local government level. (South Africa)
  • Training at all levels: grass-roots; middle class and top leadership and general public awareness on the intricacies of IWRM, through short applied courses. (Zambia)
  • Stakeholder capacitation for water management at grassroots level
  • Senior management also need refresher courses
  • Post-graduate degree programmes in areas of integrated water resources planning and management, including water demand management. (Zimbabwe)

Regional training is seen as more cost effective than training of staff at overseas institutions. One practical obstacle is the differences in the education systems, and the differences in entry requirements to enrol in a BSc degree programme. In Zimbabwe A levels are required, whereas in countries such as Botswana and Malawi one joins the university with O levels.


New questions:

6.1. There is a quantitative aspect to training: is our training capacity sufficient to cater for future needs?

6.2. There is the qualitative aspect: are our training institutions sufficiently equipped to address the needs of the near future? Which (inter-)disciplinary fields should have our special attention?

6.3. What are the possibilities of training institutes within the region establishing cooperative links, through mutual accreditation of course elements or through joint offering of courses?

7. Suggestions and advice

A suggestion:

Formation of a professional body of water sector practitioners to avoid unprofessional chancers to engage themselves in consultancies

In addition to the answers on the questions we posed, we also received encouraging and cautioning advice.

1. Integrated Water Resource Management is an ongoing process and the biggest threat is the imposition on non-appropriate technology and management procedures not fully accepted locally.

2. SADC Water Sector should facilitate coordination of activities of member countries, as well as maintain a data bank

3. Seek the involvement, the concurrence and the sponsorship of other initiatives revolving around Integrated Water Resources Management, such as UNDP Roundtable Conference, Global Water Partnership initiative, IBRD programmes, and donor countries with a long-lasting trajectory in the water sector of Southern Africa

4. Much liaison is essential to ensure that overlaps between programmes are constructive and not damagingly competitive

New question:

7.1. In what practical way or ways can we enhance liaison, communication and exchange of information on Integrated Water Resources Management activities in our region?

8. By way of conclusion

The survey responses, we hoped, would answer all our questions. We even tried to fill out a table as given below, but without success. The survey responses helped us formulate a number of new questions which we think need to be addressed, and answered. These were placed in double-lined boxes. We wish to invite all respondents to the questionnaire and the others on our mailing list to comment on this preliminary inventory, and answer some or all of the questions posed. We also invite you to answer Question 8.1. by filling out the row(s) of the table you are most conversant with. In addition, we encourage you to add your own pressing questions, and we would welcome your own preliminary answers to these.

We will report back on the responses to you in due course. We may also contact a number of institutions of particular interest in a more direct way.

Jerry Ndamba & Pieter van der Zaag Harare, October 1997

New question:

8.1 Please fill out the row or rows that are applicable (using +++, ++, +, +-, -, --, ---).

Country Water











Fictitious example:


+ + +- +++ +-
South Africa          

All responses to this article should be sent to : Jerry Ndamba at IHE@mango.zw