|Dr Jeanette Rascher
Now, more than ever, we face the challenge of providing accessible and affordable water to all people living in South Africa.
Already we are classified as a water-stressed country as we have less than 1 700 cubic metres of water for each person per year. Without strong governance and strategic interventions we run the risk of falling into a water-scarce category of less than 1 000 cubic metres per person per year by 2025.
With World Water Day (22 March) drawing near, we take a moment to reflect on this life-sustaining substance that quells the thirst of parched lips and parched lands.
A thirst for making a difference
Dr Jeanette Rascher has made it her life’s work to enhance the livelihoods of grassroots communities – initially as a social anthropologist, then a medical anthropologist and ultimately through her leadership in water resource management programmes at the CSIR. She completed her PhD as a medical-anthropologist and now specialises in the management of HIV/Aids. Her studies on the Southern Sotho-speaking people’s attitudes towards traditional and contemporary healthcare systems contributed significantly to her holistic understanding of health and well-being in a multicultural environment.
As research group leader of the CSIR’s water resource governance systems group, Rascher is instrumental in the science council’s efforts to offer guidance to institutions responsible for managing the country’s water resources.
One of the key projects Rascher and the team have immersed themselves in is the development of a comprehensive water resource governance research framework that identifies the key drivers and defines the desired outcome of water resource management and water provision in the contemporary South African context.
In addition, the framework unpacks the research programmes essential for achieving good governance in the water sector. These include science communication and dialogue structures, management paradigms and sound performance measures.
The framework was presented at the World Water Week held in Stockholm last year where it was noted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). It subsequently funded a workshop based on the title of a paper presented by the CSIR team.
The role of HIV/Aids in water resource management
A research programme highlighted in the framework that lies close to Rascher’s heart is HIV/Aids and sustainable livelihoods. It focuses on the need for sustainable livelihoods to be created in a population where many people live with compromised immune systems caused by HIV/Aids. “International statistics show that some 1,1 billion people in developing countries have inadequate access to wholesome supplies of water and 2,6 billion people lack basic sanitation. In the face of these figures, one cannot ignore the life-sustaining role that water has to play in communities where poverty and HIV/Aids are prevalent,” says Rascher.
Some of the research projects under Rascher’s leadership include looking at the linkages between HIV/Aids, poverty, gender, water, sanitation and sustainable livelihoods; ‘mainstreaming’ HIV/Aids and gender in the water sector; the influence of water services on HIV/Aids; the influence of ecological, socio-economic and socio-cultural factors on livelihoods and the interventions into regulating and managing the quantity and quality of water.
“The continuing HIV/Aids pandemic is not simply a health issue that calls for commitment from governments to provide assistance in the form of anti-retroviral treatment to infected individuals,” says Rascher, who obtained a postgraduate diploma in industrial psychology in the management of HIV/Aids. “Instead, it is a development problem that affects the whole fabric, structure and future of many African societies and there is a high and growing probability that massive political, ecological and social changes will occur during the next few years.”
Rascher’s expertise on HIV/Aids and gender in an anthropological context was also called on by the Department of Water and Forestry to help ‘mainstream’ the challenging issue. This entails ensuring that all policies relating to water and water provision are informed by the considerations surrounding the pandemic, as well as by issues related to gender.
A dangerous legacy left by mines
Several studies conducted by Rascher have contributed to the debate and discussions around another major threat to our limited water supply: acid mine drainage (AMD). In a report, entitled ‘A strategy for the management of Acid Mine Drainage from gold mines in Gauteng’, AMD and the current technologies and policy frameworks that have been put in place to prevent, predict and treat AMD are reviewed.
In addition, a paper on the pollution and threat of gold mining waste on the Witwatersrand illustrates “many of the technical, socio-economic and governance challenges faced by industry and regulators in managing the negative impacts, derived from mine waste”. Also, in a paper on the management of environmental impacts from coal mining in the Upper Olifants River Catchment (Hobbs, Oelofse and Rascher, 2008), the authors conclude that “despite the progress made in shifting policy frameworks to address mine closure and mine water management in South Africa, and despite efforts of the mining industry to change their practices to conform to new regulations, areas for improvement remain”.
The social costs and benefits of resettlement
The economic and social conditions of vulnerable groups owing to involuntary resettlement as a result of development projects are also of concern to Rascher. She has participated in resettlement action plans in South Africa and other African countries and in a recent paper on the social costs and benefits of the Lesotho Highlands Project and the Pongolapoort dam she and the co-authors conclude that the social costs to resettle communities and households do not result from the construction of large dams, but are “the consequence of institutional weaknesses and/or structural impediments at different levels to fully understand and implement resettlement policies and guidelines”.
Rooted in South African soil
Most of Rascher’s early career was spent travelling the world as part of the South African diplomatic service, and countries she called home for short periods include Germany, the Czech Republic and Malawi. Despite her travels, Rascher’s heart always remained strongly rooted in South Africa and her concerns are centred on poverty alleviation and enhancing the health and well-being of local people. “Jeanette is incredibly dedicated to ‘doing the right thing’”, says colleague, Karen Nortje, “ she believes unshakably in applying science to making a difference in the lives of people, and especially the vulnerable that are so often overlooked.”
This mother of two is a self-proclaimed optimist who believes in thinking big. She firmly believes in addressing issues on international and national levels and implementing them on a local level “where they can really make a difference”. Rascher is also a people’s person who finds a lot of satisfaction in spending time ‘on the ground’, with communities.
“My biggest dream”, says Rascher, “is seeing the HIV/Aids mainstreaming project to fruition; to bring safe water and sanitation to people buckling under the burden of the disease and, through our research and interventions, to really make a significant and sustainable difference.”
|Interacting with children from a village in north-western Tanzania as part of the community consultation process for a Resettlement Action Plan.
||Rascher welcomed by a community member during her meeting with the traditional leaders and queen mothers in Ghana.
||Visiting the Village Chiefs in Ghana. Rascher’s hands and feet are folded neatly together, a sign of cultural respect in the Brong-Ahafu culture.
|Co-ordinating a socio-economic assessment and asset survey in Tanzania, south of Lake Victoria, to ensure fair compensation for involuntary resettlement.
||Welcoming Connie September, Chairperson of the Parliamentary Porfolio Committee for DWAF (middle) and Jeanne Bushayija from the Gender Alliance (right) at the UNESCO funded Workshop on HIV/AIDS and water hosted by the CSIR in November 2007.
||Facilitating a focus group meeting with women in Tanzania to identify ways to mitigate the adverse impacts of resettlement.