In Mthatha, just before the media conference: Mr Derek Hanekom, Deputy Minister of Science and Technology, flanked by CSIR experts (from left) Louiza Duncker, Tinus Kruger and Ester Ngorima.
The main objective of the initiative, started under the leadership of the Department of Science and Technology, the Department of Water and Environmental Affairs, and the Amathole District Municipality, is the provision of reliable, safe drinking water to unserviced communities living in remote rural areas through the application of science and technology.
The core problem is that relatively isolated poor rural communities without water services are vulnerable to water-borne diseases from unsafe drinking water, as evidenced by the number of cholera outbreaks in the Eastern Cape. These communities are geographically scattered and difficult to reach with conventional water services. To alleviate the immediate need for safe drinking water, this initiative provides interim relief by augmenting, not replacing, municipal water services. The project affords communities access to safe drinking water through appropriate technology, underpinned by community mobilisation processes.
Communal water stations, located close to traditional collection areas at a river, provide safe drinking water at points in the villages. To assist with improving health and well-being, the project included hygiene promotion and education activities. In rolling out the project, the CSIR was responsible for the technological interventions, while the HSRC concentrated on community mobilisation and training.
The project benefits households in Mbelu, Cwebe, Ntilini and surrounding villages. They previously relied on untreated water from springs, rivers or dams and often shared their water resources with domestic animals.
"We view this project with the importance it deserves as it is a human rights issue. Water access and the ability to deliver it to our communities is the main obligation of the Amathole District. The initiative speaks to our mandate as a Water Services Authority and we will be undertaking it to ensure that we sustain this and work together with our counterparts to do more for our villages", said the Executive Mayor of the Amathole District Municipality, Ms Nomasikizi Konza.
The initiative was born out of a realisation that, although considerable progress has been made in water provision to rural communities, some villages are highly unlikely to get piped water in the immediate future owing to their remote locations. Also, the incidence of water-borne diseases such as cholera can be reduced significantly if communities have access to clean water, and the resources used for treating such diseases can then be channelled into more productive areas to stimulate development.
"The hallmark of this project is partnership and community mobilisation. Our main goal is to ensure that our people from the rural communities do not have to worry about their next drink of clean water. For many rural women a good part of the day is spent collecting wood and water. We believe that bringing potable water a little closer to the people will have a huge impact on quality of life," said Derek Hanekom, Deputy Minister of Science and Technology.
Three villages from the Amathole District Municipality (Cwebe, Ntilini and Mbelu) were chosen as pilot sites for technology interventions. These consist of (a) communal water stations; (b) guidelines for groundwater protection at springs and boreholes in the communities; and (c) household-based ceramic filters for the purification of water at the home. The communal water stations were installed at the source (river) so that the community could continue to use their traditional paths to fetch drinking water.
The participation and buy-in of local communities is critical to the success of any community-based project. As a result, community members were trained in the operation and maintenance of the water station and there are prospects for employment with the local district municipality. The district municipalities have committed to monitoring the water quality at the water stations, as well as to provide support with the maintenance of these stations. There are also opportunities for economic development, as it is envisaged that the manufacture of the filters, especially the pot holders, could ultimately be done in villages.
"We recognise that we need creative solutions to deal with the remaining service delivery challenges and to ensure that all citizens receive drinking water that has been treated to acceptable levels. Appropriate technology in this instance means that the methods used to extract and supply water to communities must be cost-effective, relevant to the area, easy to use by community members, culturally and socially acceptable, easy to maintain, and friendly to the environment", said the Deputy Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, Rejoice Mabudafhasi.