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SWAZILAND: Simple Solution – Save Rainwater

Mantoe Phakathi

MBABANE, Jan 30 2009 (IPS) - It's so early, the frogs are still croaking, as women push forward holding firmly onto their buckets while dodging cattle that are also scrambling for water in the pond at Gebeni. It has rained only a few times since the wet season began in October, and competition for water begins as early as 5:00 am.

But not Anna Hlophe, a 68-year-old resident of this drought-stricken community – 55 kilometres outside Swaziland's administrative capital – in the dry middleveld of the Kingdom.

"It hardly rains in this area but, when it does I make sure that I harvest as much rainwater as possible," says Hlophe.

Hlophe's neighbour Neli Mkhabela (50) points at a cylindrical grey structure attached to her cooking hut which she says is saving her – for the moment – from the early morning scramble at the pond. Mkhabela says rainwater is a precious resource to her community which they capture using cement cisterns.

"I've used this (cistern) for five years and it does relieve me at least for a month after rainfall," says Mkhabela who lives in a family of 11 people. "Save for the pond, there is no source of water in this place."

But for Hlophe who stays with only two grandchildren the water lasts for more than two months.

The cisterns are called ludziwo (water jar) in the community, a SiSwati word for the clay pots used for fetching and storing water found in every household. The latter-day ludziwo are helping many families save rainwater for domestic use in dry parts of Swaziland.

"We use the water for only drinking and cooking," insists Hlophe.

The water jars, which are a prominent feature in almost every homestead at Egebeni and surrounding communities, store up to 500 litres of water. Schools, clinics and community centres have bigger versions of the cisterns, with a storage capacity of 40,000 litres of water.

According to Meketane Mazibuko, Lutheran Development Services Gender Coordinator, water jars are benefiting up to 60,000 people in areas where water is a serious challenge.

"We discourage people from using this water for washing and bathing because it will not last for long," says Mazibuko.

LDS has helped with the construction of the water jars by providing communities with building material and also training the people to make these water harvesters for themselves. For a 500-litre cistern, one needs three 50 kilo bags of cement, three wheelbarrows of river sand, a sieve – to sift sticks, grass and stones out of the sand, an old mesh sack for oranges also works – and a tap.

"The construction of water jars is highly replicable which is why each and every homestead in this community has a water jar. After LDS trained a few community members on how to make water jars, people started training one another which is why almost every homestead has this facility although LDS stopped constructing them two years ago," says Mazibuko.

For houses with corrugated iron roofs, a gutter leading to the water jar is attached to channel runoff directly into the container.

"For those who cannot afford to buy a gutter, they can still use old bent corrugated iron sheets," says Mazibuko.

Thatched roofs can also harvest water, says Mazibuko. A kite-like shape is made using a hard plastic and logs.. A gutter or bent corrugated iron sheets is attached to the roof to lead water to the water jar.

"We've trained rural health motivators on how to treat water in the jars using bleach," says Mazibuko.

In the absence of rain, communities in the lowveld, which is the driest part of the country's four geographic regions, frequently go for days without water for drinking.

The Swazi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (VAC), a body that evaluates the extent of poverty in the country, documents the poor state of water and sanitation services in the lowland Shiselweni and Lubombo in its 2007 report.

The report notes widespread problems with both the nature of the water source – such as crocodile-infested rivers and muddy streams – and the distance to the water point and thus time taken to fetch water and bring it to the household; both factors impact negatively on a household's water usage.

According to the report, households with chronically ill adults may face particular constraints in this area. While their needs for water may increase, the adults in the household may be too ill to fetch adequate amounts, if any at all. Children in the household may thus assume the burden of fetching water.

Women and young girls who have to travel long distances to fetch water also risk getting raped in the process.

This situation puts Swaziland in a difficult position in achieving goal seven of the eight United Nations Millennium Development Goals whose other target is to halve, by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.

However, the 2007 Swazi VAC report notes "a remarkable improvement in access to water in the Lubombo region where 56 percent of the households had access to improved sources as compared to just 19 percent in 2006."

But the problem of lack of access to water is far from over because once it stops raining, communities in dry areas go for days without this basic resource, as observed by Matsanjeni Member of Parliament Cedusizi Ndlovu in the southern part of Swaziland, Government needs to build dams to catch water.

"We sometimes receive substantial rain in this place but, because there are no dams built at the rivers that run through here, we watch helplessly as the water runs to South Africa's Jozini Dam," says Ndlovu.

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