“Water is Life” – Working with Habene Community Members to Revive a Life-Giving Water Source

Armed With a Grant from the Global Environment Facility’s Small Grants Programme’s, a Zambian NGO, Programme Against Malnutrition (PAM) is collaborating with communities in Gwembe District to combat recurring droughts and food insecurity

December 22, 2023
Image of cows drinking from a watering hole

Animals in Gwembe District struggle during the dry season to find sources of water

Image captured by: Vanessa Wematu Akibate/UNDP Zambia

Mubuyu River is not a natural stream, but has earned its name from the floods that characterise it during the rainy season. It has since become a life source for many wards and villages around Munyumbwe, Gwembe district – it provides water for drinking, cooking, crop gardens, and for livestock and local wildlife. For many years, the communities along the Mubuyu River have depended on its water for their livelihoods, using it to sustain themselves and their families. But times are changing, and weather patterns are becoming increasingly unpredictable, leaving the communities along the valley food insecure.

Gwembe District, located in Lower Zambezi, is a natural water basin in Zambia’s agro-ecological region I. The basin receives less than 800l of rain annually and is prone to droughts and flash floods. The flash floods destroy crops, livestock, and infrastructure, while spreading diseases such as cholera and typhoid.

In the months following the heavy rains and floods, the district is hit by an 8 month long dry season. With temperatures reaching as high as 40°C, the valley dries out completely. To manage during the dry season, community members have dug small water wells, called Chikala in Tonga, on the Mubuyu river floor. The water wells are used to source drinkable water for households but are not large enough to provide the community with water for their crop gardens and livestock. Instead, the community have built dam walls along the river floor out of sand bricks. These walls help store some water for their cattle, pigs, goats, and crops. 

While these solutions have gone a long way in ensuring that community members can provide food for their families, many residents have opted for alternative sources of income such as charcoal burning, to boost and sustain their livelihoods. This leads to increased deforestation, further compounding land use issues the district already faces.

“The chikala have helped, but it is not enough to stop many animals from dying and to last until the next rainy season… That is why we are burning the charcoal for extra money to get food for our families”, shares Mutinta Moonga from the Women’s Group. 

Image of a small water well called Chikala in Tonga

Short water wells, or Chikala in Tonga, are dug during the dry season to provide households with water for drinking and cooking

Image captured by: Vanessa Wematu Akibate/UNDP Zambia

Francis Kasamala, the Executive Director of a Zambian NGO – Programme Against Malnutrition – has been working with communities in Gwembe District for years on several projects. Over the last decade, he noticed the weather patterns continue to change, affecting the water supply in the surrounding communities. Community members had even approached Francis to discuss the worsening weather conditions, expressing a desire to collaborate on a project that improves the community’s access to water.

“The valley is dry immediately after the rainy reason for 7 to 8 months in the year, our animals are dying, and we cannot even water our crops. But in the months between late December and to early March the heavy rains fill the Mubuyu river and even floods the villages, I think it would be a good idea to save that water for the rest of the year so that the surrounding communities can have water for their homes and animals”

In June 2022, the Global Environment Facility’s Small Grants Programme (GEF-SGP) published a call for project proposals that address climate change, and water and land management in Zambia’s drought and flood prone districts. PAM worked with the Kubota Muzeezo Women’s Group in Habene Village to develop a project proposal that would resolve some of the water related issues in the village and in the district. 

“When we came here, we asked the community what they wanted and they all said water – and that is how this project was conceptualised”, shares Francis.

The project aims to enhance food and nutrition security and incomes of the vulnerable rural households in Gwembe through improving the community’s access to water and promoting water efficient and climate smart agricultural practices. By building a weir dam that will store water from the rainy season for up to 6 months, when the dry season hits, the water will be slowly released into the surrounding streams that typically dry out during the yearly droughts.

Additionally, the Kubota Muzeezo Women’s Group will remain instrumental throughout the project’s two-year period by engaging the community on water efficient and climate smart agriculture and on enhancing proper land and water management. These sensitisation engagements will also include lessons in indigenous tree preservation and in planting techniques that fortifies the local ecosystem and sustains livelihoods. The women’s group is also looking forward to their Monitoring and Evaluation roles in the project, Hamunsi Shenkster from the group shared, “we will stay involved to make sure we collect all the information about how the project is moving”

The Ministry of Agriculture will be directly involved in the implementation of the project through Camp Extension Officers (CEO) who are employed by the Ministry of Agriculture. The CEOs will support the Kubota Muzeezo Women’s Group in data collection and community engagements. However, the Acting Senior Agricultural Officer for Gwembe District, Fines Masamba Malende, believes that the community needs to be at the forefront of the project’s implementation to ensure sustainability and to facilitate skills exchange between the project team and the residents of the district. Speaking to the need for the community to take ownership of the project, the Acting Senior Agricultural Officer noted that:

“The people who need to own [the project] is the community themselves. If you bring something and you impose it on them, they will have that notion that it was just forced on them. But once they are able to own it and realise the role and impact it has on their lives then they will guard it zealously”
An image of Mutinta Moonga, a resident of Gwembe and member of the Kubota Muzeezo Women’s Group

Mutinta Moonga from the Kubota Muzeezo Women’s Group

Image captured by: Vanessa Wematu Akibate/UNDP Zambia

Marisa Mushota Kalima, the National Coordinator for the GEF-SGP in Zambia, explains how the programme works to empower local actors for global change, noting that “the communities are deeply familiar with the environmental issues they face and are best positioned to propose the solutions to the challenges they experience. We support projects like PAM’s Weir Dam Project because they recognised the importance of community involvement in project design. 

The community members identified the problem and proposed a solution. Through the GEF-SGP, financial and technical support, PAM will work with the community to resolve these issues, instead of introducing solutions that may not be adapted for their context. This is all underpinned by the premise that local actions can have a global impact, therefore empowering individuals at community level will offset global environmental problems”.

Senior Headman of Habene Village, Muchimba Herbert the community’s excitement in the project by stating that, “Ahead of the construction of the dam, community members are already preparing building materials such as rocks, sand, and tools for the weir.”