Africa, Development & Aid, Environment, Headlines, Human Rights, The Southern Africa Water Wire, Water & Sanitation

SWAZILAND: More Boreholes, No Water

Mantoe Phakathi

MBABANE, Oct 28 2009 (IPS) - In the drought-stricken area of Siteki, Tibuyile Maziya has been trying to fill up her four 20-litre buckets with water at a community for the last four hours. With a baby on her back and two more buckets to fill up, 19-year-old Maziya says she walks to this well at least three times a week to get water for her family of 15.

In Siteki where the borehole hand pumps do not work, getting drinking water is a daily chore. Credit: Mantoe Phakathi/IPS

In Siteki where the borehole hand pumps do not work, getting drinking water is a daily chore. Credit: Mantoe Phakathi/IPS

Siteki, a small town in the eastern part of Swaziland, has not had water for decades.

"Sometimes I spend the whole day waiting for the water to surface," said Maziya. "You have to get here very early in the morning, otherwise you can go back home empty handed." Sometimes when she comes to the well, there are more people than water available.

Besides spending so much time waiting for water and walking for three kilometres to the well, she still has to immerse a bucket inside and has to pull up the heavy water-filled bucket by hand.

Surprisingly, Maziya is standing next to a hand pump borehole and two hundred metres away there is another one. "All these boreholes are not working because they have broken down," she said. The hand pump boreholes stopped working because of a mechanical failure. And there was no one around who could fix it. "For about two years now, the community has been relying on this spring for water."

It is almost noon and six more people are still queuing with buckets behind her. The residents of Siteki are not the only ones undergoing this ordeal.


A lot of people in the country, especially those in the Lubombo Region, are still travelling long distances, and have to compete with livestock drinking at the streams for the water. Others rely on springs and wells.

But hand pumps and electric powered boreholes are a common sight throughout the lowveld and dry middleveld.

According to the director of the Department of Water Affairs, Obed Ngwenya, over 3,000 boreholes have been drilled in the country since 1986 but more than 40 percent of the country’s one million population still does not have access to clean water.

In fact, said Ngwenya, about 90 percent of the community water projects are not functioning because many boreholes have broken down and nobody wants to take responsibility. He said the idea is that once government or a development agency has put up a borehole at an area, the community should maintain it. "Although government and development agencies have tried to drill boreholes in many places to make water more accessible to the people, but we haven’t been very successful so far," said Ngwenya. "Communities fail to repair these boreholes."

The reasons for this vary. But mostly communities say they do not know how to repair the boreholes. And they are too poor to afford the services of a trained mechanic.

He said the country has only tapped onto only ten percent of its ground water resources although 90 percent of its people, the majority of which are from rural areas, depend on groundwater.

Many communities, said Ngwenya, using electric powered pumps fail to pay the electricity bills and the Swaziland Electricity Company cuts them off and they remain with no water.

A lot of community boreholes have run dry after pumping water for a few months. It is a sign that no proper assessment of available underground water at those places has been done, said Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Forum chairperson Jameson Mkhonta.

He admitted that there is poor management of groundwater in the country. "Until a year ago when the WASH Forum was established, there has been a lot of duplication of activities with regards to the supply of ground water at rural areas," said Mkhonta, "Non-governmental organisations have been drilling boreholes in the same areas within a very short distance without any proper coordination which is the reason why some boreholes have run dry."

The WASH Forum, which comprises of non-governmental organisations; United Nations agencies; government and companies that provide water services, has received about 1.5 million dollars. The money will be used to repair damaged boreholes and drill more boreholes throughout the dry areas so that people like Maziya could easily access water.

The forum has realised that, besides the fact that a lot of boreholes have broken down, some of them have not been installed properly in the first place, a blame Mkhonta attributed to some private companies whom he said cut corners when installing the pumps.

Another identified loophole, according to Natacha Terrot, the communications officer at Yonge Nawe Environmental Conservation Group, is that some companies drill beyond the stipulated six inch diameter.

"The haphazard manner at which boreholes are drilled in the country could mean we’ll find ourselves depleting the water table," warned Terrot. "We need proper monitoring to ensure that people adhere to legislation and the stipulated guidelines."

In the meantime, the management of groundwater resources is not only a challenge for Swaziland but for the whole Southern African Development Community (SADC). According to Barbara Lopi, the Communications Specialist SADC Groundwater and Drought Management Project, because groundwater is not seen, there is very little awareness around its importance at all levels of society and government.

"The real value of groundwater is not visible enough to influence policy decisions and resource allocation that could lead to improved use, development and management of the resource within the region," said Lopi.

As a result, SADC is establishing a regional Groundwater Management Institute in South Africa which will be operational next year.

Back home, Maziya might have to make do with the well until the WASH Forum gets to repair the two boreholes at Siteki.

 
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