Access to clean, safe water for all is possible

As South Africans get to grips with living in a water-scarce environment due to persistent drought conditions, finding alternative water sources has become a priority. But for many residents living in rural villages where there is no piped water for various reasons — difficult topography, low population density, lack of local expertise in water treatment, and the high cost of providing such water to communities — water scarcity has been the norm for years. With no alternative, these rural residents have been forced to depend on rivers and dams for water, putting them at risk of contracting waterborne diseases.

For rural residents of Malatane village in Capricorn municipality, Limpopo, this hazardous situation has long been a daily reality. “I used to drink water from the river. That water was not clean at all,” said Florence Mavalane, and her neighbours echo her sentiments.

Consumption of unsafe water contributes to a downward spiral of health and poverty. Access to safe drinking water is a key priority for many developing countries. In South Africa several initiatives are underway to ensure that citizens have access to cleaning drinking water.

One of these projects is the Point-of-Use (POU) water purification system of the department of science and technology (DST). The initiative, which has led to water that beneficiaries describe as “super-clean” and is comparable to bottled water, is part of the DST’s flagship programme, the Innovation Partnerships for Rural Development Programme (IPRDP). The programme is geared towards improving service delivery through demonstrating innovative technologies that can improve quality of life and service delivery in rural communities.

This IPRD is being implemented in priority rural district municipalities identified by government. At the heart of this initiative is the building of science and technology management and leadership capability in these municipalities. It was intended that the building of this capability would happen through a set of technology-based pilots and demonstration initiatives that respond to the social and economic infrastructure needs identified by the department of rural development and land reform. These include:

  • Water (with a focus on both access to water as well as water quality);
  • Sanitation;
  • Housing and human settlements;
  • Access to electricity and energy;
  • ICT and communication services; and
  • Ecological or green infrastructure.
  • It is expected that the IPRDP will result in the following:

  • Improved conceptualisation and design of technology-based service delivery decisions;
  • Facilitated R&D results and new technologies from publicly funded research institutions to promote sustainable livelihoods, enhanced service delivery and more affordable access to services;
  • Enhanced learning and capacity building across the targeted municipalities in technology and innovation management;
  • Evidence-based evaluation approach of the impact of the IPRDP; and
  • Appropriate and scientific evidence-based solutions to influence policy design, development and decision making.
  • The POU system was developed by researchers at Stellenbosch University and Durban University of Technology to address the challenge of lack of access to clean drinkable water. It uses a woven-fabric microfiltration gravity filter that turns water from rivers and dams into safe and drinkable water. The filter removes solids, colloids and pathogens found in water to make it clean. The system provides users with 30 to 40 litres of safe, filtered water per day for drinking and cooking.

    Implementation manager for the project Blessing Mncube explains that the Point-of-Use system is well-suited for rural areas, because it does not require electricity to operate.

    “Its operational procedure is simply add water to the tank, add disinfectant, pour water and collect filtered water that is safe to drink. The device only needs periodic cleaning of the membranes, by simply brushing them,” said Mncube, a PhD candidate in the field of chemical engineering.

    The project has been piloted in Bizana in the Eastern Cape and Malatane village in Limpopo as part of the IPRDP of the department of science and technology. A total of 1 025 POU filtration devices have been distributed to the villagers in Bizana and Malatane.

    Residents of Madibeng municipality in North West province are looking forward to the day they will also receive the POU system. The municipality is reported to have been battling to provide clean water to its residents. The residents are of the view that the system can be of great help to them, particularly to those who cannot afford to pay for water. Mncube said his team is willing to work with more municipalities because the project has proven to be a success in many communities and has reduced the outbreak of diseases.

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