As the world observes World Water Day under the theme “Leveraging Water for Peace,” ActionAid Zimbabwe is spotlighting the pressing issue of water scarcity and its disproportionate effects on women and girls.

Zimbabwe faces a complex array of challenges, including rapid urbanization, escalating global temperatures driven by climate change, recurrent droughts, cholera outbreaks, and the
persistent El Niño phenomenon. These factors have escalated water demand, straining already scarce water resources and infrastructure.

In the absence of Gender-Responsive Public Services (GRPS), women and girls are uniquely vulnerable, enduring harassment and rights violations at water points. The scarcity exacerbates
existing gender inequalities, resulting in educational setbacks, economic hardships, and increased instances of conflict, domestic violence, and waterborne diseases.

Joy Mabenge, Country Director of ActionAid Zimbabwe, expressed concern, stating,
“The climate-induced humanitarian crises, compounded by events like El Niño, have severely impacted communities’ ability to secure their livelihoods, especially those reliant on rain-fed agriculture and livestock. Clean water has become a commodity, leaving poor communities
deprived of this critical resource.”

Furthermore, budget allocations to Local Authorities and government agencies, such as the Rural Infrastructure Development Authority (RIDA) and Zimbabwe National Water Authority
(ZINWA), failing to account for population growth and heightened demand for water and sanitation facilities, worsen the situation.

Exodus Munkuli, an SRHR activist based in Binga, emphasized the dire situation, saying,
“In the absence of water, women and girls suffer the most. Water is essential for various aspects
of their lives, including menstruation, childbirth, and household chores. The burden of water
collection falls disproportionately on women, often in unsafe conditions.”

Caroline Mutimbanyoka, a women’s rights activist and team leader for the Women for
Water Movement, highlighted the troubling politicization of water, stating,

“Asking for water, a basic right, has become a political statement. Women endure long queues
and sometimes face assault to access water, making it a women’s crisis.”

Diana Harahwa, a youth activist, added,
“Patriarchy exacerbates women’s vulnerabilities as they bear the responsibility of providing
water for their households. In Mbire, Hwange, Chiredzi, Victoria Falls, and Kariba districts, water scarcity intensifies human-wildlife conflict as both compete for the same limited resource.Women, in particular, face heightened risks, often travelling longer distances in search of water

The gravity of the situation necessitates urgent support from the international community to address these challenges and ensure inclusive recovery efforts. ActionAid Zimbabwe and other civil society organizations underscore the importance of meaningful participation by affected populations, particularly youth and women-led organizations, in shaping the recovery agenda.

“Access to adequate, clean, and safe water is a fundamental human right. The Zimbabwean government, with support from civil society organizations, and ensuring the full participation of
all rights holders, should implement measures for the guaranteed provision of water and sanitation facilities. This includes involving every stakeholder in decision-making processes
related to water provision,” stated Joy Mabenge, Country Director of ActionAid Zimbabwe.