I would like to take this last opportunity, as recent
Programme Manager of ALCOM (Aquaculture for Local Community Management), to discuss an
important topic with FAN readers. Before beginning my subject, I would like to to thank
all of you for your keen interest in the ALCOM Programme. Over the past two years, ALCOM
has grown into a truly broad-based aquatic resource management programme. Through this
evolution, the Programme has received the support of many within and outside the
organization, support for which I am very grateful.
Now, on with my dam subject. Before my indoctrination I considered dams pretty simple
things. Not dams like Kariba of course, but your run-of-the-mill earthen impoundment of a
dozen or so hectares didnt seem too problematic. Not so.
There is first and foremost the issue of ownership ownership of land and ownership
of water. By design the dam is blocking downstream flow. What of the rights of downstream
inhabitants to what may amount to usurped water? What of the rights of communities
bordering the newly formed water body versus the rights of a government agency funding the
construction of the dam itself? Many of these proprietary issues will find their solutions
in the statutes and regulations of the governmental entity involved. Nonetheless, they
should be considered before and not after the fact.
I have been discussing the ownership of dams as though it only involved the site of the
planned impoundment and the impounded water itself. Obviously it is much more. The dam
corresponds to a watershed, often with orders of magnitude larger area. Everything that
happens on this watershed, all land use affects the quality and quantity of water in the
dam and, to a certain extent, dictates what uses the dam may have. Watersheds may touch
scores of communities and the harmonization of interests can be daunting.
Now, lets say you have mastered all these issues; water and land rights clearly
delineated, responsibilities assigned and stakeholders identified. Is the worst over? No
it is not. There is still the major task of working with the stakeholders to form a
group with a clear management structure and operational priorities.
How is the water and the dam to be used?
At pilot project sites of the ALCOM Small Water Bodies Project we frequently encountered
opposing views and priorities for the same resource. One faction favouring safeguarding
the water for domestic use insisted on regulations that forbid any one from entering the
dam to a depth above the knee. Others who wanted to promote hook-and-line fishing for all
proclaimed that fishers must enter into the dam to for some distance to be able to fish
away from shoreline vegetation. Still others declared the dam should be used by organized
fishing groups using canoes and gill nets to better exploit fish stocks. All three groups
were at odds with the cattlemen who wanted to water their herds at the dam the
cattle eroding the dikes and muddying the water to the detriment of both consumers and
This is not to say dams should be avoided due to their socio-cultural complexities. As
witnessed by the 11,000 dams in Zimbabwe, inventoried in the ALCOM Water Resource
Database, impounded water is critical to maintain the quality of life. Urban Harare as
well as the smallest communities rely upon impounded water for their existence; water to
drink, water for animals, water for gardens and water in which to fish.
In recognition of the importance of impounding water, governmental and non-governmental
agencies across southern Africa have been rapidly building dams. The lessons of the early
90s were hard taught and all now know how devastating water shortages are. However, the
point is this: building the dam is the easy part. Having the dam function as an integral
part of community life is more difficult. To be able to take a holistic approach to
resource management is more easily said than done. ALCOMs experiences have gone a
long way to establishing methodologies for analysing the problem and suggesting solutions.
I hope these experiences can benefit others who are planning to give a dam.
FAO Regional Office for Africa