By Madalitso Mwando
02 Jun 2011, NGWIZI, Zimbabwe - Water shortages have long been a problem for villages that lie along the Zimbabwe-Botswana border. But for Thomson Kilobe, finding water now means crossing national borders in search of this vital resource.
Kilobe lives in Ngwizi village, which lies northwest of the border town of Plumtree. He is one of many villagers who make regular trips to the Botswana side to draw water from boreholes because there are none in their own locality.
The Ramokgwebana River, which divides the two countries, has for years provided water for those who live nearby. The area has a long history of sharing water sources, and many families have relatives on both sides of the border.
But siltation and changing climatic patterns have largely dried up the river, throwing rural livelihoods into disarray and forcing residents to search elsewhere for water.
Kilobe says competition for water is souring relations among people who share historic kinship ties.
"When it was a few people making the long trip to get water on the Botswana side there were no complaints, but now with the drying of springs, streams and even the big river (Ramokgwebana), many are crossing, creating problems for us," Kilobe said.
The rural area surrounding Plumtree is part of an arid stretch of southern Zimbabwe. Ironically, it is one of many parts of the country hit recently by localised floods attributed to intense rainfall increasingly linked to climate change.
But the floods did not mitigate the underlying shortage of water, and residents say they are increasingly worried.
"There is very little assistance we are getting from anyone to get water," says 61-year old Magadelen Ncube, whose maize field was first destroyed by the floods and then scorched dry by the sun.
"Our drinking water now comes from villages across (the border) and our sons make the trip using donkeys to ferry the water," she said.
Development officers working in the area confirm that residents face increasingly long journeys to find water.
"It has been tough for villagers that live along the border as they have to walk long distances to look for water," said Japhet Damasane, a field assistant with the Integrated Rural Development Programme, whose programmes are supported by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that rural communities are bearing the brunt of global climate change as the hefty carbon footprint of wealthier countries threatens their food security and access to water.
For Kilobe, loss of livestock is part of the problem. In his region, animals often must go for days without water as villagers prioritize scarce supplies for themselves.
More worryingly, residents of Ngwizi are aware that they could be depleting resources on the Botswana side of the border as well.
"The people in Botswana are now complaining that we are finishing their water. We just do not know what else we can do as even the river (Ramokgwebana) has dried up," said Magadelen Ncube.
"We must ask what will happen if the water on the other side begins to disappear," Damasane said.
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