Safe drinking water and hygiene in rural communities exacerbated by pandemic
Although the country’s Constitution enshrines the right to safe drinking water for all, millions of South Africans do not have access to clean water and dignified sanitation in their homes, schools, clinics, and communities.
In addition, South Africa is a signatory to the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and has committed to meeting the eight targets of SGD6 that would protect our water sources and deliver safe drinking water to all by 2030.
Dr. Kevin Winter at the University of Cape Town’s Future Water Institute, says the country’s progress towards these water targets has been far too slow and it is highly unlikely that South Africa will meet these commitments over the next nine years.
The majority of South Africans without safe drinking water live in rural areas.
Community engagement vital to achieve safe drinking water for all
COVID-19 has highlighted this inequality as entire rural communities have struggled to protect themselves from infection because they cannot wash their hands frequently due to lack of access to water.
As part of its COVID-19 response, World Vision South Africa, implemented training in COVID safety and hygiene in four communities of Ga-Sekororo and Sekgosese in Limpopo, Thaba Nchu in the Free State and Grey Town in KwaZulu-Natal.
To date, 189 community members have been trained as Health Ambassadors to share correct COVID safety information and to promote hygiene practices to help protect families.
Families without access to water have been taught how to construct and use Tippy Taps. Further to this, information sessions have been held in 19 schools with a total of 24,000 learners benefitting from hygiene campaigns.
A water-scarce country
South Africa is a water-scarce country that faces multiple challenges in the quest to provide safe drinking water for all. Water stress in many regions requires community participation in water-harvesting and water-saving strategies. Unacceptably high levels of water pollution are causing many of the country’s freshwater ecosystems to collapse.
At a World Vision South Africa webinar, held on 3 September, Thulang Lecheko, the co-ordinator of the World Vision Ford Watergen Project highlighted how critical community involvement is to achieving safe drinking water for all.
Set in the water-stressed Nelson Mandela Bay municipality, the project has introduced mobile heat exchange Water Generating Systems to increase people’s access to clean, drinkable water.
“Using innovative technologies to providing safe water to fragile communities is only one aspect of the project,” Thulang says, “Water conservation education is a critical success factor and we have implemented a variety of campaigns including social media drives, radio shows, and ads, community-based billboards, all with the help of our Water Ambassadors who encourage community-wide participation and highlight how every person can make a difference.”
The webinar, which was hosted by Bruce Layzell, CEO of WVSA, also included presentations from Janine Simon Meyer of UNICEF’s WASH team, Dr. Emmanuel Opong, Southern African Regional Director of World Vision International, and Mr. Bernard Rey, Head of Cooperation of the EU in South Africa.
Bruce Layzell said, “The importance of ensuring the rights to safe drinking water for all has only been exacerbated by the pandemic.
“We must remember that more than 800 South African children under the age of five die daily from diarrhoea caused by unsafe drinking water, poor sanitation, and poor hygiene practices.
“Poor water infrastructure in rural areas also leads to frequent water cuts and shortages causing school closures and disrupting children’s education. The efforts to meet our commitments to SDG6, and the rights of all South Africans when it comes to access to clean, reliable water and dignified sanitation need to be escalated as a matter of urgency.”