This paper examines the experiences of water reform in Zimbabwe with the view to ascertain not only the challenges and achievements of the reform in meeting its objectives thus far, but also the prospects for re-engaging with the water reform vis-à-vis rural livelihood improvement in a post-crisis period. This paper argues that although the post-2000 period presented complex social, economic and political challenges to water sector reform, there were inherent limitations embedded within the concept of integrated water resources management which lie at the heart of water sector reform in Zimbabwe. It is suggested that a realistic attempt to re-engage with water reform policy aimed at improving rural livelihoods in a post-crisis Zimbabwe should be aware of ‘old’ and ‘new’ issues that undermine improved access to, and management of, water for rural livelihood improvement.
Schematically, this paper is organised into six main sections, including this introduction. The second section sets the context of the water reform by presenting a brief overview of water resources, the underlying historical background of water management and related history of land acquisition in Zimbabwe. An analysis of the post-independent water and land distribution, socio-economic development and livelihood crisis in the 1990s is conducted in the third main section. The fourth section outlines the principles and objectives of the water reform. Stemming from this is an analysis of the experiences of water reform from 1998 to 2006, which constitute the fifth section. Drawing from the experiences of water reform up to 2006, the sixth section provides suggestions and recommendations for a post-crisis recovery scenario.