Urban & Rural

Access to adequate water supply is recognised as a fundamental need and human right, and has considerable health and economic benefits for households and individuals. Water is a basic ecosystem service, necessary to enable sustainable life and livelihoods.

Urban water use is often grouped with industrial water use because urban centres are often near industrial centres. Similarly, rural water use is sometimes grouped with livestock watering requirements, again because of the proximity of the activities. Both urban and rural water uses include domestic water needs.

The demand for water in urban and rural areas is mainly influenced by:

  • Population (including growth and density)
  • Cost of water development and services
  • Technological choices based on the socio-economic situation of water users
  • Climate


Basin-Wide Demand

The Limpopo River basin is one of the most populated in Africa, and therefore, has significant urban and rural water demands (Amaral et al. 2004). At least 50 % of the population in each country lives in rural areas. Because the population is predominantly in the southern portion of the Limpopo River basin, the southern portion has a higher usage of water (Amaral et al. 2004).

A substantial portion of the water used in the urban sector is used non-consumptively and is discharged as effluent which can be treated and re-used (FAO 2004). This is further discussed in the Small Scale Supply and Sanitation sub-Chapter of Water Infrastructure.

The table below outlines the percentage of urban and rural demand in the Limpopo River basin, within each portion of the riparian countries.

Urban and rural water demand in the Limpopo River basin.
Country Urban Demand (%) Rural Demand (%)
Botswana 4 7
Mozambique 0.3 5
South Africa 47 84
Zimbabwe 49 4

Source: Adapted from LBPTC 2010

Urban demand in South Africa and ZImbabwe accounts for 96 % of urban demand in the basin due to the large urban centers present within each riparian country.

South Africa and Botswana account for 95 % of rural demand in the basin due to the rurally populated nature of both of these countries within the basin.



Combined urban and rural demand, account for just under 71 % of total demand, within the country in the Limpopo River basin. Urban demand can be attributed to the capital and largest city, Gaborone, falling within the Limpopo River basin. According to a 2001 census Gaborone had a population of approximately 186 000 (CSO 2001).

Gaborone Dam plays an important role in water demand management in Botswana. Source: Hatfield 2010



As noted in the Sub-Chapter Water Use and Allocation, both urban and rural demand in Mozambique in the Limpopo River basin, are less than 3 % of the total in this portion of the country. This is likely due to the sparse population and lack of urban centres within the Limpopo River basin in Mozambique. No major cities reside within the Limpopo River basin with Xai Xai, with a population of approximately 116 000, being the largest center (World Gazetteer 2007).


South Africa

Urban demand in the South African portion of the Limpopo River basin is approximately 24 % while rural demand is only 5 % of the total demand (Water Use and Allocation).

Urban and rural water requirements vary in each of South Africa's Water Management Areas (WMAs) within the Limpopo River basin (DWAF 2003a, b, c, d). The table below outlines the urban and rural demands in relation to population.

Urban and rural water demand in South Africa in the Limpopo River basin.
WMA Urban Population Largest Urban Centres Urban Water Requirements (Mm3/year) Rural Population Rural Water Requirements (Mm3/year)
Crocodile (West) and Marico 4 371 246 Johannesburg, Pretoria 546.4 1 460 282 37.7
Levuvhu & Letaba 138 893 Thohoyandou, Tzaneen, Giyani 10.6 1 522 384 31.4
Limpopo 276 655 Polokwane (main towns include Musina, Makhado, Mokopane, Mookgopong, Modimolle 34.3 1 298 024 28.8
Olifants 912 151 Witbank, Middelburg 87.2 1 870 970 44.1
5 698 945
6 151 660

Source: DWAF 2003a, b, c, d

The highest urban water demand and population is in the southwest portion of the Limpopo River basin, in the Crocodile (West) and Marico WMA which requires approximately 80 % of total urban water demand in the four WMAs. This is predominantly due to the urban development in the Johannesburg-Pretoria area. The Olifants WMA has the next highest urban demand at approximately 13 %.

The rural population exceeds the urban population in all WMAs except the Crocodile (West) and Marico WMA, however rural demand only exceeds urban demand in the Levuvhu & Letaba WMA. This is due to the rural population far exceeding the urban population by over four-fold in the Levuvhu & Letaba WMA .



Within the Limpopo River basin urban demand in the Zimbabwe portion of the Limpopo River basin is approximately 50 % while rural demand is less than 1 % of the total demand (Water Use and Allocation). This is contrary to the fact that approximately 70 % of the population in Zimbabwe lives in rural areas (Nare et al. 2006). This can be accounted for due to the sparse rural population in the basin with most of the population centered around Bulawayo, the second largest city in Zimbabwe, which falls within the Limpopo River basin.

However, the water demand of the rural communities is rarely satisfied due to a lack of infrastructure needed to bring the water to these communities (FAO 2004).

Water shortages in Bulawayo have been noted primarily for drinking water as outlined in the news article below (IPS 2010b).

WORLD WATER DAY: Water Everywhere but Not a Drop to Drink
Inter Press Service - Ignatius Banda

BULAWAYO, Mar 22, 2010 (IPS) - When there are water cuts in Bulawayo, the plants in 59-year-old Ntombizodwa Makati’s vegetable garden are still watered - but she and her family go thirsty.

Small scale farmers in Bulawayo are able to use recycled waste water for their crops as lack of adequate rainfall affects the region, thanks to the local city council’s programme. But there are no programmes in place to provide drinking water for households in the area. Makati is one of many urban residents living in poor suburbs, in a city of two million people, who face constant and prolonged water shortages.

World Water Day is on Mar. 22, which United Nations-Water has given the theme of water quality "Clean Water for a Healthy World". But water quality still remains an issue in Bulawayo. The city has long cited lack of resources as the stumbling block toward providing water for domestic use.

Makati complains that while she is able to water her vegetable garden at her home in Mabutweni, a high-density suburb, using waste water provided by the city council, there still remain no alternative water sources for domestic use.

Along with her fellow residents, Makati has been forced to resort to unsafe open water sources for domestic use when the taps run dry – something that happens on a regular basis.

"It is increasingly frustrating having to go without water and without getting any warning from the municipality," Makati said.

"We are extremely (lucky) when the rain falls because then we can harvest the rain water which we find clean and can use in our kitchens," she said.

However, the poor rains that have hit the drought-prone parts of Zimbabwe’s southern region means there is little Makati can fall back on as an alternative water source.

What has exacerbated the crisis for Makati and many others is that she still has to boil the unsafe drinking water, but electricity power cuts have virtually made this impossible. The inability to purify the water places many at risk of contracting cholera. Memories of the 2008 cholera outbreak still remain fresh on the minds of locals.

The Bulawayo City Council has for years promoted the use of what it calls "reclaimed water" where waste water from sewer treatment plants is used for farming and urban agriculture projects. But such initiatives are yet to extend to domestic water use.

This, according to city officials, is largely because a lack of funds has stalled projects such as the drawing of water from the Zambezi River.

"We are still facing financial problems that have made harnessing ground water and improving water quality and also water quantity difficult," says council spokesperson Nesisa Mpofu.

Water quality remains an issue in Bulawayo with residents complaining that water from household taps sometimes looks like river water, with a murky brown appearance that clearly indicates it has not been chemically treated.

Bulawayo mayor Thaba Moyo acknowledged the criticism of the water quality, especially to poor suburbs where the majority of the city’s residents, like Makati, reside. "We really have to strive to give our residents clean water," Moyo told a recent council meeting.

The United Nations Children’s Fund has since responded by giving the city water treatment chemicals as part of efforts to improve water quality.

At the height of the 2008 cholera outbreak, which the World Health Organization says claimed over 6,000 lives, the Bulawayo City Council provided water treatment tablets to households. But this programme stopped after donor agencies saw the decline of cholera cases, Mpofu said.

Water Resources and Infrastructure Development Minister Sam Sipepa Nkomo has lamented that the city’s water problems will take long to be solved, citing a poor budget vote for his ministry. The ministry was allocated a little over 100 million dollars for the 2009/2010 budget, but Nkomo says the building of the Zambezi water pipeline will need more than 1.2 billion dollars.

The politics of water have stalked the council for years, with city officials citing lack of commitment by the then government of President Robert Mugabe.

With the continued poor rains, which experts say have been worsened by the effects of climate change, the aims of World Water Day seem far off from being realised, water rights activist Susan Mbambo said.

"There have not been any tangible efforts to harness alternative water sources for domestic use, but farmers have been receiving help because the water they use is cheap to recycle but still cannot be used for domestic use," said Mbambo who works closely with the Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association.

"The city council cites lack of adequate budgetary support from central government to fix water problems and this has meant residents turn to sources like burst water pipes to scoop water for home use," Mbambo said.

Early this year, the city council cited financial setbacks as the reason for failing to service about 77 boreholes at Nyamayendlovu, a local township.

Source: IPS 2010b

Current ongoing initiatives.

LIMCOM's current ongoing interventions being undertaken