Road to Annual Meetings: South African villagers find fresh water in ancient mountain springs

The village of Tsakhuma in the Vhembe district of South Africa’s Limpopo region is proof positive that communities can find solutions to their problems. Like many rural areas in South Africa, Tsakhuma lacked access to water for bathing, cooking, washing and chores, and the burden of fetching water fell on its girls and women.

“There was a general water shortage all over Tsakhuma,” says villager Florence Negondeni. “We would sometimes go for weeks without access to water.”

The problem arose, in Negondeni’s view, when district municipal authorities installed a new water scheme in Tsakhuma without consulting community members. The new system lacked a maintenance plan, and breakdowns contributed to water scarcity. Fed up with the situation, Negondeni began to study the history of the community and region for clues that might improve its water security. Shortages “made me think about ancient areas in the mountains, where our people used to get water,” she says.

Villagers discovered a number of springs in the mountains nearby. After undertaking a cost analysis of equipment to supply water from the springs to the village, the community members pooled funds to buy it, and  set up their water scheme.

The African Water Facility, hosted and managed by the African Development Bank, supported the establishment of the community scheme, which has water reserves for more than a year, at a cost of about $7,850. The sum was raised from the 113 village households. “On a monthly basis, the community members contribute R20 (approximately $1.50) each to maintain and service the pipeline,” Florence added.

South Africa’s Water Research Commission (WRC), which funds, facilitates and disseminates research on water-related innovation, invited Florence to present her project. The Commission has since begun mobilizing financing to roll out similar initiatives. As a result, Tsakhuma now has 11 communal groups, led by women, that supply 4,000 people with water for multiples uses.

“Tsakhuma is a model for community-based solutions to water supply in rural and peri-urban areas,” says Omari Mwinjaka, coordinator of the African Water Facility. “We are working with partners to implement, up-scale and replicate this model to other areas in Africa.”

The African Water Facility provided $1.45 million in grant funding to The Water Research Commission to assess the benefits of community-driven water planning. Funds will also go to implementing multiple use water systems in six villages in Limpopo’s Vhembe and Sekhukhune districts, which are among the country’s poorest.

The African Water Facility, founded in 2004, is wholly Africa-owned and managed, and is the only Project Preparation Facility operating in Africa that focuses exclusively on the water and sanitation sector. Since 2006, AWF has funded 119 projects at a cost of €167 million across the continent and mobilized  over €1.5 billion in downstream investment.

 “One of the African Water Facility’s objectives is to deploy small but catalytic investments, or provide seed funding to projects that can be replicated or piloted using innovative or alternative business models and technologies aimed at helping communities – especially women and children – improve their quality of life, create employment, and reduce stunting in children,” said Wambui Gichuri, the Bank’s Acting Vice President Agriculture, Human and Social Development, African Development Bank Group.


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