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It is undeniably true that majority of rural households in South Africa continue to live in abject poverty on daily basis. In an effort to tackle this scourge, former President Thabo Mbeki once posed a question to residents in one of the rural villages: “How are you using water to be economically active?”

Research conducted by a non – governmental organisation called the Association for Water and Rural Development (AWARD) in 13 villages in the Bushbuckridge area showed that where villagers had more water, economic activities of many poor households in the village increased twice. Typical examples of activities included brick making, drinking water for livestock, small businesses such as hair salons, home beer brewing, and ice making as well as backyard or community gardens.

Provision of water enhances local economic development and people’s livelihood – making significant contribution towards community upliftment. In addition, it helps households to generate income, especially when there is a gap in the market for locally produced goods.

Food security and income: A case study of Ms Matshepo Khumbane

The organisation called International Water Management Institute (IWMI) in partnership with Water for Food Movement (WfFM) studied the food production practices of Ms Matshepo Khumbane at her home near the town of Cullinan, located in the north eastern part of Tshwane Metro during 2002 winter season. In their study, IWMI discovered that Ms Khumbane produced almost a ton of vegetables on her small plot, which was laid out in such a way that it led rainwater directly into the vegetable beds every time it rained. In terms of value, Matshepo could sell and earn approximately R2 000 to buy maize meal for her household for the next six months.

She produced even more vegetables in summer, diffusing a notion that backyard gardens were no longer irrelevant.

The importance of rainwater harvesting

There are several sources of water and technologies that can be used to make additional water supply to households. Rainwater harvesting is one of those techniques that is gaining popularity again, after it was neglected for a longer period.

More than 60 different methods of rainwater harvesting are used in East African countries. There are, however, three most popular ways of harvesting rainwater in South Africa:

  • To lead rainwater directly into trenched vegetable beds in the backyard.
  • To build underground water tanks in the yard to catch and store rainwater for later use. People can build these underground tanks with cement blocks or other materials themselves.
  • To channel water in the maize fields into earth semi-circles or bunds, called ‘in-field rainwater harvesting structures’- so that rainwater is concentrated onto the crops. These methods can be used to provide water to households for different purposes.

MUS as a solution to water supply: A case study of Bushbuckridge Local Municipality

In 2005, the Association of Water and Rural Development (AWARD) piloted the implementation of multiple use system (MUS) in Ward 16 of the Bushbuckridge Local Municipality in Limpopo. AWARD used a community-based organisational approach model and worked with closely with, among others, the former Departments of Water Affairs and now Department of Water and Sanitation, Agriculture, and Social Development. This process comprised participatory assessment of water-based livelihoods, water services and water resources available in the local villages.

This approach was known as Securing Water to Enhance Local Livelihoods (SWELL). Based on the assessment, a joint planning process was followed.

Immediate refurbishment of infrastructure was prioritised.

Funds were allocated from the Integrated Development Plan to refurbish the water infrastructure.

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One of the sources of water identified was small earth dams for cattle. Many of these dams had silted up. Residents resorted to domestic water systems to provide drinking water for their livestock. In response to this challenge, the Department of Agriculture committed to clean up the dams and residents put anti-erosion measures in place to prevent dams from silting again. Rainwater harvesting was also identified as one of sources that required possible exploration.

The pilot project was used to focus on the implementation and monitoring, working closely with the stakeholders, not only to solve water problems in the area – but also to use the project as a trial with a view to improve the Integrated Development Plan as well as water planning and implementation.