With 104 river basins and considerable groundwater potential, Mozambique has abundant water , with 54% of its freshwater resources originate in upstream countries . In fact, Mozambique receives surface water from several large transboundary rivers, including the Zambezi River which provides most of Mozambique’s water resources .
Water stress at the national scale is low as total renewable water resources per capita (7,317 m3) is higher than the water stress threshold defined by the Falkenmark Water Stress Index and the total volume of freshwater withdrawn by major economic sectors is only 1.75%. However, water is not evenly available throughout Mozambique and many water courses are seasonal, which can contribute to regional water stress, especially in the south and during times of drought .
Mozambique’s water resources are classified as surface water resources and groundwater resource. Mozambique has 13 major river basins (nine are transboundary) and 22 smaller basins scattered along the coastline. The Zambezi River constitutes around 58% of renewable surface water, followed by the Rovuma River (13%). Most rivers have high water flow between December and March and low flow for the rest of the year .
In the country, upstream and domestic dams create risks to ecosystems, including biodiversity loss, especially in the Zambezi Delta. While dams can stabilize water resources availability, mitigate damaging floods, and provide key benefits such as hydropower, they also disrupt natural flow patterns which can negatively impact downstream ecosystems. For instance, since the construction of Zambezi’s Cahora Bassa Dam in the Zambezi Delta, it has reduced wet season flows by 61% and increased dry season flows by 243%. Reduced wet season flows and flow disruptions from the Cahora Bassa Dam have reduced sediment transport to the Zambezi Delta and increased brackishness as seawater penetrates farther inland.
Moreover, water quality is impacted by mining in upper basin countries, urban wastewater, and agricultural effluent .
Around two-thirds of the population uses groundwater for domestic purposes, mostly through unprotected wells, and some estimates suggest that 30% of all abstractions are from non-renewable sources; in addition, groundwater quality information is limited in the country with sources estimating the high salinity of it.
Another problem is related to the widespread fecal contamination of groundwater in urban areas, mainly during rainy season .
Water, Sanitation and hygiene (WASH) is another major issue for Mozambique. In fact, nationally, although the proportion of people without access to improved water sources declined from 65% in 1990 to 49% in 2015, disparities between those without coverage in rural and in urban areas are still marked, estimated at 64% and 17% respectively. Moreover, in rural areas, one out of five use surface water as their primary drinking water source . Mozambique has one of the highest open defecation rates in sub-Saharan Africa (36%). furthermore, 76% of the population do not have or do not use improved sanitation facilities (88% in rural areas and 53% in urban and peri-urban areas) .
Climate change is among the factors threatening the availability and quality of the country’s freshwater resources, both surface and ground water. Additionally, population growth and rapid urbanization will soon put an even greater pressure on WASH services since the urban population of Mozambique may reach 50% by 2025. Cities and their poorly served peri-urban areas are magnets for rural migrants. Also, growing rural towns of up to 50,000 inhabitants represent roughly 15% of the total urban population and will require much greater investments .
In general, increased risk of floods and droughts, more variable rainfall and high population growth are putting these water resources under pressure .
Key policies and governance approach
Three are the key laws, policies and plans related to water availability and resources.
The National Water Law (1991), Adopts Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) -based approach to water management and assigns institutional responsibilities across the water sector, with the Ministry of Public Works, Housing and Water Resources (MOPHRH) serving as the primary national authority on water resources management and policy development. The Law also establishes the National Water Council (CNA) and Regional Water Administrations (ARAs).
In 1995, the National Water Policy was adopted with the main goal of assigning water resources management functions to basin and provincial level organizational structures. The Policy has been revised in 2007, emphasizing the importance of IWRM priorities .
The main Ministry dealing with water resources are the Ministry of Public Works, Housing and Water Resources (MOPHRH) which is the lead ministry in charge of the water and sanitation sectors, focusing on infrastructure, policy, and regulation. The MOPHRH houses the National Directorate of Water Resources Management (DNGRH) which is responsible for developing water management policies for river basins; ensuring compliance with international treaties on shared water resources; performing regular analysis and assessment of water availability and demand from river basins; and formulating and managing basin-wide water management plans.
Moreover, the National Water Council (CNA) is the inter-ministerial entity tasked with the water sector coordination; it advises the Council of Ministers on issues related to water management and policy, including the implementation of the 1991 Water Law .
The Ministry for the Coordination of Environmental Affairs (MICOA) and the Ministry of Land, Environment, and Rural Development (MITADER) are also involved in water management, respectively issuing permits and collecting fees for effluent discharge and permitting for environmental impact assessments .
Successes and remaining challenges
Unfortunately, the Regional Water Administrations (ARAs) are often underfunded and struggle to collect needed resources to fulfill their core functions, in Mozambique. Moreover, the technical and organizational capacity within the ARAs is low with the result of operational plans often underemphasize groundwater development and of not applying cross-sectoral and comprehensive approaches to conservation and pollution control .
Moreover, an estimated 85% of funding for the water sector is derived from grants and concessional loans, which creates a strong dependency for actions on external support. Economic interest is still the first priority which is exacerbated by the lack of strict water quality standards and protections, and the absence of clear water allocations among member states for many rivers. This led to the country’s lack of legal guarantees to assure water supply, despite having transboundary IWRM entities in all nine international basins .
Initiatives and Development Plans
In 2018, Mozambique developed the National Master Plan for Water Resources Management covering the following 20 years, which included a water balance and flood risk analyses, and prioritizes hydraulic investment planning .
UNICEF is also supporting the government with its WASH programme. The programme gives support the national priorities laid out in the Government’s Five-Year Plan, which are in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), including SDG 6 to “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”. UNICEF will work in partnership with the government to ensure vulnerable groups have access to safe water supply and sanitation infrastructure in rural, small towns and peri-urban areas. It will also contribute to its overall mandate to advocate for the protection of children's rights, to help meet their basic needs and to expand opportunities which will allow them to reach their full potential. WASH interventions will make significant contributions to reducing preventable child deaths, reducing undernutrition, helping girls and boys to fulfill their right to education, and to reduce the burden on women and girls to fetch water .
The World Bank has been working on the so-called National Water Resources Development Project (2012-2020) with the objective of strengthening the development and management of national water resources and increase the yield of the Corumana Dam to augment water supply for the Greater Maputo Metropolitan Area. Moreover, in 2021 . The World Bank approved a USD150 million grant from the International Development Association (IDA) in support of the Government of Mozambique’s Rural and Small Towns Water Security Project, which aims at increasing access to improved water supply and sanitation services in selected small towns and rural areas of Nampula and Zambezia provinces in northern Mozambique . This operation complements other ongoing World Bank investments in urban and rural development in northern Mozambique, including the joint efforts of development partners supporting the implementation of the second phase of the government’s National Program for Rural Water and Sanitation (PRONASAR), and the government’s Five-Year Program 2020-2024 .
- Groundwater quality information in Mozambique is generally limited and additional research is needed to understand the risks of geogenic contaminants;
- More research is needed regarding the issue of fecal contamination of groundwater;
- More comprehensive water quality monitoring is needed nationwide to protect water resources.