Conflict management crisis in the Umvumvumvu Catchment, Eastern Zimbabwe
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Any resource, such as water, when used by more than one person, tends to attract conflicts about how it is shared. This is especially true when the resource is scarce and yet the number of users is large. In such cases, conflict resolution mechanisms are an important component of sustainable resource management. This chapter sketches the dilemmas posed by the absence of conflict resolution mechanisms in the Umvumvumvu catchment in eastern Zimbabwe, a catchment composed of non-homogenous users (see Figure 11.1). The chapter goes a step further and attempts to isolate the main causes for this situation. The principal factor was the main legislation governing water allocation in the country, the Water Act (1976) No. 41. The inappropriateness of this piece of legislation vis-a- vis the realities in the catchment had to do with some of its central tenets. Practically all the actors in the catchment did not relate to the difficult system of defining property rights (water user rights). The doctrine of priority system, the basis of water allocation in Zimbabwe, espousing the principle of first-come- first served in granting water rights, and first-come-last out during water scarcity, was a problem as will be shown below. Another problem was a centralized conflict resolution structure located far away in the capital city (Harare), which moreover, embodied alien concepts of conflict resolution. Compounding this situation were a group of actors who, although sharing a common water source, found little reason to co-operate. The hydrologic behaviour of the water source, the Umvumvumvu River, further complicated matters as the fluctuations in the supply was not accompanied by flexible water sharing arrangements.