Open dialogues for multiple use water services

There is a greater resilience and determination among communities to find solutions to water problems that have engulfed the country. This they do even at times when water authorities and those who are supposed to provide services haven’t reached the level of supply that matches their needs. As it is, water is mainly provided as a basic, neglecting the multiple use that the communities have identified over a period of time, or a practice they are accustomed to.

The Water Research Commission (WRC) has seen this gap in the two years that it was involved in research on the multiple water usage project; that chief among this is the lack of dialogue that identifies how communities may be better serviced.

“There is a need to continuously have policy dialogue on water from different perspectives. Our interest is beyond talk; it is about how we operationalise the multiple use water services (MUS) in South Africa,” said Virginia Malose, research manager for multiple use water services at the WRC.

Malose had gathered together various stakeholders in Polokwane to talk about progress in the research on how communities have implemented the multiple use water services in Vhembe and Sekhukhune districts in Limpopo, as well as to assess the interventions the WRC has made in the areas.

Malose said: “We are not only working with these two district municipalities to demonstrate how you engage communities in a planning process, but actually [work out] what funding resources are required. How much money is required to plan and support an MUS project?

“We noted that the guidelines on MUS have been promulgated since 2015 and little progress has been achieved in this area. It is our wish to see a radical shift in how partnership with communities would offer a lasting and different perspective on water use.”

The WRC has partnered with the International Water Management Institute, the departments of water and sanitation and of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, Limpopo’s department of agriculture and rural development, the African Water Facility, the African Development Bank and the two district municipalities. Malose sees this partnership as a winning formula, because it has made inroads in places like Pairing, Ga-Mokgotho, Ga-Moela, Tshakhuma, Khalavha and Ha-Gumbu. In these areas there is higher community participation in water management outside the conventional methods of supplying water.

“We want to see the water needs in totality reflected in the integrated development plans [IDPs] of municipalities in the next financial years. When water needs are raised within current IDPs, it is not done in a sense that we outline what these water needs are; it’s not actually translated into water for what purpose.

She said: “There was work already taking place in some of those areas but needed proper guidance if it has to be sustained over a period of time.” Tsogang Water and Sanitation, a nongovernmental organisation, was tasked to collect baseline information in those areas and has developed draft designs for further intervention.

“What we have done in this project is [ask] that: If this source is giving a certain [number of] litres of water, what are the communities’ needs for that resource? If we are to improve that supply, how much water will be available for community use? That’s what we will be able to track over the next years of the project — whether we have made improvement in the abstraction or the pipeline of the water in that area,” Malose said.

The WRC says their aim is not to stop what the community is doing, but rather to enable their work to be streamlined and sustainable. In the areas where the WRC is making interventions, communities had used their own money to run the water schemes.

In Tshakhuma, for example, Florence Negondeni, says that for her scheme to come to life in the Murangaphuma section they collected R113 000 to assist 113 households to get water to from the source into their own yards.

“All the work carried out here is a result of communities themselves agreeing to pay R1000 each that we were able to buy pipes, connect from the spring up the mountain and connect the pipes all the way to the resevoirs and then to their yards. On a monthly basis the community still contributes R20 each to maintain and service the pipeline,” said Negondeni.

Malose says that because of the need to sustain these schemes the WRC has introduced a funding partner, the African Development Bank, which is using their agency, the Africa Water Facility. Through the research done by the International Water Management Institute and community support by Tsogang Water and Sanitation, there is an assessment of costing and the funds that would be needed to sustain the schemes.

The assessment carried out has shown that the 11 schemes in Tshakhuma would require R942 464 to give them a longer life without destroying both the source and the supply line to the households. The money would look into source development, source fencing, storage fencing, water storage, water main and reticulation.

Two years into the project, the WRC say they expect that by the fourth year the project will be able to give them the quality of their intervention in this area.

“If you go to Ga-Moela, it is not about the government falling short in providing infrastructure to provide water. They have good sources of water with bigger resevoirs, but it is the operation and maintenance that is letting this project down. Pipes are leaking,” said Malose.

Themba Mahlangu, the senior manager in executive mayor’s office in Sekhukhune district municipality, acknowledges the effective role that the multiple use water services project has played and the input it is making in Ga-Moela, Ga-Makgotho and Phiring.

“These people from WRC are helping us in cutting the water services backlog. Ours is to make sure that there is not a plethora of non-governmental organisations working on their own without municipal support. They help here with small reticulation and their working with local communities is something we acknowledge and are pleased to be involved in the project itself.”

Overall, it is hoped that through the dialogues with the two district municipalities, the project’s lessons can be upscaled to other municipalities in the country. That it is why representatives from the department of water and sanitation, the department of co-operative governance and traditional affairs and the South African Local Government Association were part of the Polokwane meeting.

At the end of the day’s dialogue and the visit to projects in Vhembe, there was an air of satisfaction among the participants, especially the WRC, which sees brighter prospects for how the outcome of its research may be replicated in South Africa to solve water challenges affecting even areas that have thriving waters sources. 

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