Water Woes – Contamination Plagues Drinking Supply in the Eastern Cape; LAND Project Plans to Respond
The water in Kumanzimdaka is contaminated and people are getting sick.
Results from a recent study by LAND Project team-member, Theo Loo, confirm that all primary springs in Mmangweni (one of four smaller communities within Kumanzimdaka village) are contaminated with livestock feces making them a health hazard (see picture below). In addition to testing the water sources themselves, Loo surveyed local household members about their water security. At least 61% of community members surveyed reported suffering from gastrointestinal distress throughout the year. And people are walking long distances to collect this dirty water – about 109 minutes per day on average. The results of this study reaffirm the need for better and improved water security strategies in Mmangweni to reduce water stress.
Loo, who won a Wisconsin Idea Fellowship Research Grant to investigate the topic, conducted this research in August 2015. He observed that Kumanzimdaka, like so many other rural areas in South Africa, depends on ground springs for drinking water and lacks the capacity to easily transport and protect these water resources. This situation fosters the transmission of waterborne diseases. Loo analyzed the current factors contributing to water stress in Mmangweni village by employing interdisciplinary methods including household surveys, water quality testing, and geospatial analyses. One of the best, and first methods required in order to truly understand the complexities of water use, is simply to talk to people. Loo went door to door, asking questions and listening intently. He evaluated water accessibility, quality, and usage. He also took photographs of springs and geo-tagged them before testing each for fecal coliforms. Loo generated a comprehensive map of the village’s household, springs, and community centers.
Loo’s conclusions were drastic, but not altogether surprising. The LAND Project has long suspected that community members suffer from chronic and debilitating health impacts due to unclear water. They’ve told us as much, but never before has a study of this kind been conducted in Kumanzimdaka.
This study has served as a genuine catalyst for action. The LAND Project is committed to working in partnership with community members to address the situation as soon as possible, to reduce waterborne disease and improve water security overall. In August 2016, three LAND Project team members returned to Kumanzimdaka to meet with community-members to discuss the situation. After much dialogue, the team determined that there may be one good option with the potential to make an immediate dent in Kumanzimdaka’s water woes. Rainwater harvesting (RWH) is a low-tech strategy that could reduce poverty by improving agricultural productivity and profitability in rain-fed areas across Africa (Rockström et al., 2007). We believe that Kumanzimdaka is no exception. RHW involves collecting, conserving, storing, and utilizing rainwater for numerous uses, including irrigation, washing, cooking, livestock, and drinking.
In 2017, the LAND Project plans to install a series of household RWH systems in Kumandimdaka as a low-cost, low-risk means to improve water security for villagers. RWH tanks (or JoJo’s) with the capacity to hold 5,000 or even 10,000 liters will capture rain run-off from rooftops of variables shapes and sizes.
Rainwater collection offers several advantages. It can help improve access to water across seasonal and meteorological variations in precipitation. It can be collected and stored nearby to dwellings, alleviating some of the labor burden from walking long distances to fetch water and freeing up time for other activities. Small-scale systems also lose less water to evaporation compared with large dams. RWH systems can store a surprisingly large amount of water (for example: a flat terrace of area 50 m2 in a region with an average annual rainfall of 600 mm could accumulate 30,000 liters a year). The volume is dependent on catchment (roof) area and the rainfall depth. Lastly, rainwater is generally considered a clean water source—often a better option than water from rivers, basins, or contaminated springs. It is salt-free and good for irrigation. However, pollution in the air, dirt or bird droppings from the roof, and contamination during storage (as a habitat for vectors or microorganisms/algae) necessitate that it is further purified via filtration, boiling, and/or chemical treatment before drinking. The LAND Project is currently determining the best means to ensure that water collected using RWH is potable for the local community.
Future water-security ambitions also include development of communal ‘water plazas’ to provide safe drinking water for livestock. This will be particularly useful once a community-organized managed grazing structure is operations.
Here’s to a more water secure future in Kumanzimdaka! Stay tuned for project updates in the near future.
*Rockström, J., Hatibu, N., Oweis, T., Wani, S.P. 2007. Managing water in rainfed agriculture. In: D. Molden, (ed.). Water for food, water for life: a comprehensive assessment of water management in agriculture. London, UK: Earthscan; and Colombo, Sri Lanka: International Water Management Institute. p 315– 348.