Dam Operating Rules and Community Tools to Ensure Water for All in the Save Basin

The Save Basin is a catchment area of tributaries to the Runde River and the Save River, which raise complex issues for water managers as they traverse the border between Mozambique and Zimbabwe. In a region where rainfall has always been variable, the dry seasons are now becoming longer and less predictable. Even in years with ‘normal’ total rainfall, mid-season dry spells can cause crops to wilt, resulting in ‘droughts’ in a so-called normal year. And in some years, reservoirs in the Basin are full to the brim, while other years they stand empty. Water authorities in both countries therefore have to make difficult decisions about when to open dams and when to restrict water use, based on their best predictions about rainy seasons yet to come. In the Save Basin, water authorities are using new operating rules for more equitable allocation and systematic management of water. Rural communities are using reliable water resources to grow new crops, improve their health and incomes, and reduce pressure on the river system. Here, the positive connection between local projects and basin-scale management is clear. Amid these concerns, the large dams that supply cities and agricultural estates garner a lot of attention. Yet the Save Basin’s poor rural populations are often forgotten – and this has consequences.