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Harare water delivery: researcher-practitioner collaboration supports climate agility




October 5, 2020


The Harare municipality has to deliver water to over a million people living in and around the Zimbabwean capital, a population which has grown three-fold since most of the water infrastructure was built in the 1980s. Since then, the city has not been able to expand its water infrastructure to keep pace with urban growth. Some of its dams have had to be decommissioned in recent years, owing to falling water levels, and pollution from the city. This has contaminated dams that are downstream of the capital.


Harare (Source: Martin Addison)


A recent partnership between climate researchers, the Harare City Council (HCC) and Zimbabwe National Water Authority (ZINWA) helped identify potable water delivery as one of its ‘burning issues’ in the context of an increasingly uncertain climate. The partnership also allowed a collaborative approach to drawing up solutions to tackle this pressing development question in the future.

This work contributed to setting up an environmental management unit in the Town Clerk’s office, which will eventually have a climate change ‘desk’ that will improve collaboration between national and local tiers of government, and allow for the city council to plan water delivery better in the context of the pressures associated with climate change and its other development challenges.

‘It would be great if this desk also helps allow for better climate reporting and multi-level governance,’ explains Jessica Kavonic, a senior professional officer at ICLEI Africa, which was a key partner on the project.

The work was part of a four-year collaborative initiative under the FRACTAL research team part of Future Climate for Africa (FCFA). FCFA started in 2015 by drawing together climate researchers in Africa, the UK, and Europe, with national and local governments, implementing institutions, development agencies, and local communities in sub-Saharan Africa, to help support development planning through generating usable climate information.

Through the Harare project, FRACTAL partnered with ICLEI Africa, a global urban sustainability city network, to work with municipal officials and other stakeholders in the city. The approach was intentionally collaborative and inclusive, allowing them to jointly identify water delivery as a key ‘burning issue’ amongst the city’s main development challenges, says FCFA researcher Rudo Mamombe.

Mamombe is based at Chinhoyi University of Technology in Harare and, through FCFA, worked as an ‘embedded researcher’ within the city council for a period of six months in 2017. This allowed her to build the relationships and collaborations needed for this kind of trans-disciplinary approach to take place. City officials were included in the research process from its inception, which is a step away from older models of climate research, where academics often arrive with pre-determined ideas about what a city needs.


The process of engaging in trans-disciplinary co-creation of climate information was as important to the project as the new knowledge developed through the partnership.

As a ‘boundary agent’ in this process, Kavonic says what was unique about this collaboration was that it allowed the partners to mutually find an entry point through which the research outcomes could better be used to support the mainstreaming of climate and water information into the city’s planning and decision-making.

ICLEI has a long history of working with local municipalities through peer exchange, partnerships, and capacity building to support systemic responses within urban contexts.


Harare’s water challenges

Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate is tasked with reporting on the country’s climate change targets and working in the international space. However, there has long been a gap between national mandates relating to climate change, and city-level responsibilities relating to water, sanitation, and environmental issues. The threat of rising temperatures and changing rainfall patterns impacts all of these issues at a city level, and the city council’s ability to meet its water delivery mandate.

‘Climate change is coming in as an additional stressor to all the issues impacting the city’s water delivery,’ explains Mamombe. ‘It will impact on the quality and quantity of water in Harare. Pollution will be higher as drought results in increased concentration of pollutants due to less dilution of pollution entering river and dam systems. This increases the cost of treating water significantly, and the city council is already spending a lot of money on purifying its water supply.’

Water delivery planning also needs to consider meeting the needs of poor and marginalised commutes in lower-income suburbs. While some households in low-density areas might be able to afford to buy bulk water from private suppliers who deliver by tanker, those in high-density or low-income areas often can’t afford this and rely on groundwater from wells which might be contaminated with pollution.

The new climate change desk will be housed under the environmental unit and will aim to help incorporate climate information into policy development and planning for the city.


‘Boundary agent’ helps bridge the science-policy divide

‘ICLEI works as a boundary agent to help bridge the gap between different stakeholders in an urban development context. ICLEI Africa has always used co-production as part of its process in working with cities,’ explains Kavonic. ‘This specific project allowed the stakeholders to work together to find the appropriate entry points for climate information to make its way into the policy sphere.’

Reflecting on the outcomes of the collaborative work, Mamombe and Kavonic conclude that the work shows the value of learning together as a key principle for the uptake of the resulting information that comes from a research project like this. Through a series of carefully facilitated engagements, the various stakeholders were able to put aside some of the traditional power dynamics that might be a hurdle to different participants working together effectively.


Download the FRACTAL Impact Story – The importance of relationships and networks (through transdisciplinary co-production).

This article was written by Leonie Joubert as part of a series covering the science produced by various FCFA projects and introduces some of the people behind it.