/ 17 March 2006

Mozambique upset by ‘theft’ of water by SA

”Theft” of water by South African farmers upstream the Nkomati River has prompted a complaint from downstream Mozambique, after the river’s flow dropped to a trickle last year.

Speaking to the South African Press Agency on Thursday at the World Water Forum (WWF), under way in Mexico City, the department of water affairs’ executive manager for institutional oversight, Silas Mbedzi, said the Mozambicans had been very upset when the river ”almost stopped” flowing across the international border.

”They have lodged an official complaint, and [South Africa] wants to address this,” he said.

The Nkomati River rises in Mpumalanga and twists and turns its way eastwards for about 450km — passing through Swaziland, back into South Africa, and then through Mozambique — before emerging on the coast just north of the capital, Maputo.

At least half of the river is in Mozambique, although all its major tributaries are in South Africa and Swaziland.

Describing it ”highly-stressed catchment”, Mbedzi said the river was managed by the Komati Basin Water Authority (Kobwa), a body the Mozambicans had not been in a rush to join until illegal pumping coupled with last year’s drought saw their water supply almost cut off.

Now South Africa’s north-eastern neighbour ”realises their is a need to be party to Kobwa”, Mbedzi said.

Currently, only South Africa and Swaziland sat on the management body. Mbedzi said there had been a lot of illegal water usage on the Nkomati River, but not on the part of government — the culprits were South African farmers.

”It is now incumbent on [the South African] government to appropriately reduce water usage. There must be a clearly defined regulatory system, with clear allocations,” he said.

This, together with concessions to the downstream Mozambicans, was likely to have a ”big impact on water users in South Africa and Swaziland”.

In terms of international law — which appeared to have been broken on the Nkomati River last year — Mozambique was entitled to a minimum seasonal flow of water from the South African side of the border.

Among those drawing vast amounts of water out of the river are South African and Swazi sugar cane farmers.

Mozambique authorities are now moving towards establishing this lucrative, if thirsty, crop in their country too. Its introduction will place further demands on a river system that already has too many users for everyone’s needs to be met.

Mbedzi said since Kobwa was established in 1999/2000, the two major dams on the Nkomati — the Driekoppies Dam in South Africa, and the Maguga Dam in Swaziland — had never been full.

Recent good rains however had seen the levels of both reservoirs rising to above 50%. – Sapa