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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Reducing water scarcity and building resilience in the city of Harare: A systems thinking approach

Urban water scarcity is a growing systemic risk, particularly in the developing global south, where water supplies face a range of biophysical and socioeconomic stressors. Compounding risks include population growth, urbanisation, climate change and ecosystem degradation. Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, is particularly vulnerable to increasing water scarcity. This is due to a combination of existing shortfalls in water supply and access, high state fragility, growing exposure to water-related risks, and limited capacity to cope with shocks and recover from losses.

This research employs a systems thinking mindset to develop management strategies for the City of Harare to ameliorate its existing water scarcity challenges and build resilience in the face of future risk and uncertainty. Drawing from data supplied by the city and literature acquired through desktop research, the city’s water resilience was first assessed against ARUP’s City Water Resilience Framework to identify key gaps. Following this, a systems thinking approach, specifically the construction of Causal Loop Diagrams, was adopted to map the current system structure, identify influential feedback loops and areas of leverage, and design appropriate interventions.

The findings of the structured assessment identify several key water resilience gaps in Harare. These include a weak provider-customer relationship, limited governance capacity, inadequate coordination and integration between key players, shortfalls in physical supply and critical infrastructure, environmental degradation, and a lack of disaster response and recovery measures. The systems analysis revealed that these issues are large-scale, cross-sectoral and compounding, and that remediation measures must therefore be similar in nature.

The strategy development process that followed revealed the importance of several factors in creating sustainable change in the context of Harare’s water system. These factors are often overlooked in favour of large, centralised, capital-intensive, technobureaucratic approaches. They recognise the necessity of adopting a broader, integrative systems thinking approach, the power of building relationships of trust, dignity and reciprocity between stakeholders, the significance of shifting underlying mindsets around value and health, the influence of altering knowledge flows and reorganising power structures, the need for nature-based approaches, and the importance of adaptivity and flexibility in decision-making.


Course Overview


The need to engage in better problem definition through careful dialogue with all stakeholder groups and a proper recognition of context.


An ability to work with specialists from other disciplines and professional groups acknowledging that technical innovation and business skills also must be understood, nurtured and combined as precursors to the successful implementation of sustainable solutions.


An understanding of mechanisms for managing change in organisations so future engineers are equipped to play a leadership role.


An awareness of a range of assessment frameworks, sustainability metrics and methodologies such as Life Cycle Analysis, Systems Dynamics, Multi-Criteria Decision making and Impact Assessment.