HARARE, June 7 – (TerraViva) When the residents of Nkupisha village, in northern Zambia’s Mpika district, started suffering from diarrhoeal diseases because the stream that supplied them with drinking water was contaminated, the local village insaka stepped in and banned people from bathing and washing there.
Insaka literally means “a place to gather” or “a talking shop.” In every Bemba village in northern Zambia, one finds a hut with a thatched roof at the centre of every village, where the men and boys coming of age gather to make decisions about the village.
The insaka in Nkupisha village took a hard line to prevent people from further contaminating the local stream. Any man or boy found swimming in the stream would be publically flogged. And women and girls caught washing nappies or clothes would have to work on the “umulima cipuba” – meaning “cultivated by fools” – a farm controlled by the village head, where offenders found guilty by the insaka are ordered to do community service.
Michael Mutale, Executive Secretary of the Zambezi Watercourse Commission (ZAMCOM), uses the model of the insaka to explain the role of river basin organisations in the management of trans-boundary water bodies in Southern Africa.
“Traditionally, in a village setting, insaka is an invaluable institution to be party to. In the case of the Zambezi River basin, ZAMCOM is the insaka created for all Zambezi member countries to interact in and plan for the development of the shared community resource – water,” Mutale told TerraViva.
ZAMCOM seeks to promote deeper cooperation among the eight Zambezi River basin countries – Zambia, Angola, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malawi and Tanzania. The Zambezi has been a source of livelihood for millions of people along its length, with fishing and farming being the main economic activities.
But while the village insaka metes out punitive measures for offenders, the trans-boundary water management body focuses on persuading member states to buy into the common vision of promoting sustainable water management in a spirit of dialogue.
“In the Zambezi basin programmes, like in the Southern Africa Development Community, the spirit of cooperation is what rules. Decisions ares by consensus and conflict is avoided through careful discussions,” Mutale explained.
“Cooperation is not an extra option - it is a matter of survival.”
The 31 million people living along the 3,000-kilometre long Zambezi River, Africa’s fourth longest, have in recent years suffered recurring floods, droughts, power outages and food insecurity.
Enhanced cooperation among the eight countries that the Zambezi straddles could reduce the incidence of man-made disasters in the region.
For example, every rainy season, authorities in Zambia and Zimbabwe open up the Kariba Dam spillway gates as a flood control mechanism. The Kariba Dam is a hydroelectric dam that links the two countries. However, the water released from here often ends up flooding the states situated downstream.
With increased dialogue with ZAMCOM, all affected countries should be able to more effectively plan the release of the millions of cubic litres of water, which is released from a height of approximately 500 metres, in a way that would not endanger those living downstream.