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Zambian Farmers Test New Ways to Collect, Preserve Water


Loss of rainfall attributed to climate change has stimulated new innovations of accessing water in dry seasons. Development experts are assisting smallholder farmers and rural communities' in accessing clean water while responding to global warming.

Scientific studies have shown that the ever-increasing global temperature is reducing the size of water basins in many developing countries like Zambia. Some areas that were traditionally wetlands are now facing constant drought. Other areas that were initially drought prone are now experiencing severe flooding. The fluctuations in weather conditions has led to poor water supply and increased water-borne diseases such as cholera.

In an effort to assist Zambia's rural communities in their ability to respond and adapt to global warming, a team of experts is encouraging smallholder farmers and rural communities to set up rain water harvesting structures. The team is also assisting in the effort. The Zambia National Farmers Union through its Conservation Farming Unit is helping farmers dig water harvesting basins. Water Harvesting is a simple and cheap technique for collecting excess water for drinking or irrigation. The water is usually retained in either small dams, manually-dug basins or huge underground storage tanks.

Lisa Sendwe is the Agro-forestry Farm Manager at the Conservation Farming Unit of the Zambia National Farmers Union in Chisamba, Central Zambia.

Sendwe notes that in semi-arid and arid areas, a year's rainfall may occur in just a few big storms. With insufficient water storage facilities most of the water is simply lost.

She explains that in this case, rain water harvesting is certainly advisable for rural communities to adapt to global warming and erratic water supply.

"You know our rainfall pattern is bad. So what happens usually is we talk to farmers how to dig a basin. This basin will be like a reservoir. It will capture the water and hold the water such that even if there will be a drought for sometime…that water will be utilized by the plants because it will be kept in the basin for sometime and we dig permanent basins," she says.

Recent studies have shown that African farmers on rain-fed land will lose $28 per hectare per year for each Celsius degree rise in global temperature. Global warming erodes coastlines, undermines access to water, spreads pests and water-borne disease and produces more erratic weather patterns.

Noting the serious effects of global warming on water access, the Batoka Livestock Development Center in Southern Zambia is also encouraging farmers and surrounding communities to invest in rain water harvesting projects.

Bernard Muntanga is the Project Coordinator of the Water Harvesting Project at the Batoka Livestock Development Center in Choma. At one of the sites he says, "This ditch…is actually supposed to be a reservoir. The purpose of this…is water harvesting. We will have some… [pipes] on the roof then connect some poly [plastic or rubber]pipes which come straight into this ditch so that when rain comes it is collected from the roofs, then we store it. During dry season we can still utilize it either through irrigation or drinking water."

Sahelian Solutions is a non-governmental organization that is promoting the construction of sand dams. They are also used to store water for future use. The NGO has so far assisted Kenya's rural communities in constructing 300 sand dams. The project is now being extended to Zambia, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe.

Arjen de Vries is General Manager for Acacia Water, and a water specialist for Sahelian Solutions. He says the aim of the sand dams project is to improve access to water within Africa's rural communities. De Vries says in areas considered semi-arid and arid, local people have problems dealing with constant drought for both domestic and agricultural use. He explains how sand dams work.

"It's actually a very simple construction. I mean it's an old technique. What people do is that they more or less block a river bed containing sand. And they block it through construction of a concrete type of dam. The whole dam fills up with sediment. The next rainy season the water will be captured behind the concrete dam in the sediment. And because of the sediment, the water will not be evaporating. From a water quality perspective, it's not so susceptible to pollution," he says.

Only 58 per cent of Zambia's 12 million people have access to clean drinking water.

Due to global warming the periods of droughts will even extend. Although the total volume of rainfall will not necessarily decrease, studies show that the periods of rainfall will shorten. This is why development experts are encouraging large scale investment in water harvesting facilities. This will enable smallholder farmers and rural communities to have access to large quantities of clean water.

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