Households in the Mbelu, Cwebe and Ntilini villages in the rural Eastern Cape now have access to safe, reliable drinking water. Some 9 000 people from these villages in the Amathole District Municipality previously relied on untreated water from springs, rivers or dams and often shared their water resources with domestic animals. The safe drinking water is the result of a project initiated by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and led by the CSIR.
The main aim of the project is accelerating sustainable water service delivery in the area to provide reliable and safe drinking water to unserviced communities, living in remote rural areas, through the application of appropriate technology and science.
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 isolated, 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. Some villages are highly unlikely to get piped water in the immediate future owing to their remote locations. The project provides communities with access to safe drinking water through appropriate technology, underpinned by community mobilisation processes.
When the incidence of water-borne diseases is reduced, the resources used for treating such diseases can be channelled into other productive areas to stimulate development.
Three Deputy Ministers and officials from Amathole District Municipality (ADM) and the local municipality joined forces during the ceremonial launch of the successful pilot project. The launch, held in tents near Mount Pleasant, was attended by some 2 000 members of the nearby community.
Mr Derek Hanekom, Deputy Minister of Science and Technology (second from the left), flanked by CSIR experts Louiza Duncker, Tinus Kruger and Ester Ngorima.
Appropriate technology in this instance means that the methods used to extract and supply water to communities are cost-effective, relevant to the area, easy to use by community members, culturally and socially acceptable, easy to maintain, and friendly to the environment.
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 three villages from the ADM – Cwebe, Ntilini and Mbelu – were chosen as pilot sites for technology interventions. The technology interventions consist of communal water stations; guidelines for groundwater protection at springs and boreholes in the communities; and ceramic filters for the purification of water at the home for each household. 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.
A number of renewable and alternative energy supply options for the water station – such as solar, wind, hydro, biomass and hybrid energy systems – were investigated. Diesel generators on their own, and solar power with diesel generators as back-up, were found to be the most suitable.
The communal water stations are designed to produce a volume of at least 3 m3 of safe drinking water per hour. The clean water is pumped from the water station to a small reservoir or storage tank, from where gravity carries the water in pipes all the way to the taps in the villages.
The participation and buy-in of local communities are 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. A simple, but robust, water quality testing kit, which could be used by the local operators in the villages and complies with the Blue Drop requirements, has been provided at each water station.
The ADM has committed to monitoring the water quality at the water stations, as well as to provide support for the maintenance of these stations. There are also opportunities for economic development, as it is envisaged that the manufacture of the ceramic filters, especially the pot holders, could ultimately be done in villages. It is anticipated that the success of this pilot project in the ADM could be replicated in other isolated rural areas in South Africa in future.