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The dynamics of urban water service delivery capacity and the implications for household food security in Gweru, Zimbabwe.

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Water is a resource on which all human activities, in both rural and urban environments, are anchored. Due to limited social security in developing countries and associated challenges, water is relied upon directly, and heavily, for food security. Several studies focusing on the relationship between water and agriculture have been conducted mostly in rural areas of Zimbabwe. Whilst the water and food relationship was historically associated with rural settings in Zimbabwe, the urban environments are now increasingly identifying with the relationship for survival due to national economic underperformance. Currently, no research has focused on the dynamics of domestic water service delivery system and the implications for household food security in urban areas. Research has been turning ‘a blind eye’ to the effects of reported water shortages and water affairs on household food security in Zimbabwean cities. In view of this, the present study assessed the urban water service delivery system and its implications on household food security in Gweru, the fourth largest city of Zimbabwe. Therefore, the capacity of Gweru municipality to supply water to citizens was assessed. Capacities investigated were the availability of water at source as well as the municipality’s financial, human and infrastructural capacities to supply water to citizens. The findings revealed that the city had sufficient raw water at source to supply the city. Nonetheless, the infrastructural capacity to pump water to the city was limited. Financial incapacity was identified as the major drawback that crippled the system in terms of both adequate human resources and infrastructure development in the city. Results revealed that the municipality was further financially incapacitated by water debt cancellation that was implemented in the year 2013. The shortfall between supply and demand was assessed. Using World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines on recommended per capita water per person, results showed a significant differ This situation prompted the researcher to investigate the role that water users were playing in the incapacitated system in order to optimise the limited resources. Adequacy of user participation in the water supply system was assessed using a perception study. Results show that despite all the incapacities, the service provider was not capitalising on working with residents in order to maximise conserving the available resources. Gweru municipality and the city’s residents had poor communication. This perpetuated a tendency of non-compliance with water conservation and demand management strategies as respondents felt disregarded. The municipality was seen as dictatorial, imposing decisions to do with water rationing and revenue collection on residents mutatis mutandis, without adequate consultation and notices. It was in the context of the limited water supply and demand management capacities, the widening supply and demand gap as well as inadequate user participation that household food security was assessed. Results show that municipality’s efforts to continue providing service sometimes led to serious cost recovery and revenue collection that culminated in excessively high bills and serious follow up on payment that, in most cases, led to disconnections. Residents suffered water cuts and reduced food production prospects from their gardens due to plant wilting. The study further revealed that the municipality allowed backyard farming irrigation, but then capitalised on increased bills that were mostly based on estimates. The high monthly bills also crippled the residents’ food buying power, making them more vulnerable to food insecurity. The municipality imposed decisions that make the utility fulfil its mandate of supplying water at the expense of the intended beneficiary, the user. The results show that the measures taken by Gweru city council seriously compromise household food security. The study further assessed the coping strategies that were devised by respondents and civil society groups to counter water shortages and water related household food insecurity. Results reveal that respondents embarked on both legal and illegal strategies for survival. Due to inherent poor communication between the authority and residents, most of the coping strategies devised by respondents, such as self reconnection to water supplies, exhibited deviant behaviours due to lack of options, further increasing the amount of non-revenue water consumed. Twenty two percent of respondents demonstrated their willingness to cooperate with the municipality through payment plans, although 18% of them revealed the ineffectiveness of the option since bills continued to increase. In order to cushion the residents from water shortages and food insecurity, civil society rolled out boreholes and community garden projects in the city. The findings of this study demonstrate the importance of capacity building and development in the water service delivery sector. The study highlights the need for stakeholder engagement, in a bid to optimise resource utilisation amid limited capacities. The findings of the study further show the importance of people-centred approaches in resource management in order to achieve sustainability. Lack of an integrated approach in water service delivery in Gweru led to more disgruntled and vulnerable citizenry that perceives hegemony and prejudice. The findings have demonstrated that lack of engagement breeds an environment that counteracts a conservation ethos, as citizens defend their spaces for survival. The research findings can supply a baseline of information for the formulation of city by-laws and national policies on urban water and household food security.


Doctor of Philosophy in Geography. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg 2016.


Municipal services., Municipal water supply., Theses - Geography.