BULAWAYO’S water problems will be over in three years, a cabinet minister declared on Thursday as he announced that the Chinese government had committed US$1,2 billion to a long-mooted plan to draw water from the Zambezi River through a 400km pipeline.
Water Resources Minister Samuel Sipepa Nkomo said Chinese contractors were this week beginning work on the project which was first drawn up by British settlers in 1912.
When complete, the Matabeleland Zambezi Water Pipeline will create a “greenbelt of agricultural activity” along its length, Nkomo told a news conference at a Bulawayo hotel.
“The government has secured funding to the tune of US$864 million from the Chinese Exim Bank. The $864 million has been budgeted for by the Chinese government,” Nkomo said.
“One of our contractors, China International Water and Electric, has since been instructed to move on site. The $8 million allocated by Treasury in the 2012 budget will be channelled towards site re-establishment costs.”
He said the Chinese would this year allocate a further $345 million in their budget to complete the project.
The project will be implemented in phases, with the first stage being the completion of the Gwayi- Shangani Dam which would receive water from the Zambezi River.
The second phase will see the construction of a pipeline from Gwayi-Shangani Dam to a reservoir in Bulawayo’s Cowdray Park suburb.
The third and final phase will be the construction of a 245km pipeline from the Zambezi River to the Gwayi-Shangani Dam.
The parched Matabeleland regions traditionally receive low rainfall, and the urban expansion around Bulawayo has put pressure on the city’s water supply dams forcing the local authority to invoke rationing measures.
Local Government Minister Ignatius Chombo, who attended the press briefing, said the Matabeleland Zambezi Water Project could be “bigger than Chiadzwa” in its economic impact – reference to the diamond discovery in the east of the country.
“The scope of the development that will be brought by the completion of the project is difficult to fathom,” Chombo said.
“Local authorities must plan the activities that will take place along the canal. In my mind, I am seeing a corridor of people growing crops, animal husbandry, residential infrastructure with modern tarred roads, sewer systems and shops.
“I also see a fruit growing industry complete with packaging and canning factories. Let us not wait to start planning when the water finally reaches Bulawayo.”
Dumiso Dabengwa, the chairperson of the Matabeleland Zambezi Water Trust, said it was a fulfilment of one of the dreams of the late Vice President Joshua Nkomo.
“Diverse opinions always exist but national interest is of paramount importance. We welcome this breakthrough without reservations,” said Dabengwa.
Fan Hu, the vice chairman of the China Dalian Technical Group (CDIG) – the contractor which will built the pipeline – said the project would provide enough water for about two million people and all industrial activity in the region.
“It will take three years to complete. We are looking at the establishment of a greenbelt along the pipeline on which we expect the economy of Matabeleland to be built. Significant growth of the national economy is also expected to result from the project,” said Fan.
Chombo said “people’s appetites have been aroused countless times over the project” and hoped the Chinese government’s intervention was the breakthrough which had eluded successive governments and private trusts since 1912- Newzimbabwe.