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Every drop counts, as rain water harvesting saves the day

A woman collects water from a resevoir

Tinomuda Chakanyuka

FOR many, the aphorism “water is life”, remains nothing more than just a catch-line for a water conservation campaign.

But as yet another maxim would put it, literarily, “you never miss the water till the well runs dry”, it may take one to thirst first for them to appreciate that every drop of water counts.

Just as the late reggae legend Bob Marley sang, “Who feels it knows it,” those who bear the brunt of water scarcity attest to heavy weight of the burden. Suffocating dry spells over the past couple of years have seen communities in semi-arid regions of the country grappling with severe water shortages.

Insiza District in Matabeleland South Province is one such place where water shortages have become as common as cow dung.

The district experiences fairly low total annual rainfall and is subject to perennial droughts. What used to be dreaded deep pools along major rivers that cut across Insiza District are now playgrounds for toddlers, as erratic rainfall patterns take their toll on the district. Both people and livestock are at the mercy of the water crisis, largely attributed to climate change.

Coping with cyclical droughts has become a way of life for many a folk in Insiza District. Families often spend a large portion of their productive time traveling long distances to the nearest functional borehole to fetch water for domestic use.

Nearby boreholes have either broken down or dried up due to recurrent dry spells. Last year’s drought, the worst in years, might just have exacerbated the plight of Insiza villagers.

This season may, however, be different as heavy rains have pounded the area including the recent tropical storm Dineo, which regrettably left a trail of destruction.

Suffice to say, it never rains but when it does it really pours in Insiza District and the rest of the southern region of the country.

Women who are largely in charge of the day to day running of the domestic sphere bear the heaviest burden of the water shortages.

Their duties that include cooking, washing and child rearing among others require water. Thus the task to fetch the precious liquid is “logically” assigned to them in society’s division of labour matrix. When water conservationists chant, “every drop counts”, villagers in Insiza and many such drought stricken areas in Zimbabwe hearken. They can relate.

Thirty-six year-old Mrs Sipho Sibanda of Village 10, Ward 16 in the district has faced the grim reality of water scarcity in her area. She takes care of a 15-member family, which includes her 77-year-old visually impaired father-in-law, three children below the age of nine and her brothers as well as sisters-in-laws’ children.

The demand for water at the homestead is enormous and with the drought situation in her area Mrs Sibanda’s predicament worsens. She, like many other villagers, has to contend with the harsh circumstances, and as the characteristic of human nature demands she has devised ways of adapting to water scarcity.

With the help of a local NGO, Zimbabwe Project Trust (ZimPro), Mrs Sibanda has resorted to rain water harvesting to alleviate her plight. Rain water harvesting is the process of collecting water from surfaces on which rain falls, filtering and preserving it for later use. Mrs Sibanda has through the assistance of ZimPro built a 6 000-litre rain water harvesting tank at her a homestead, which she says has made a lot of difference to her life for the past five years.

Adjacent to the asbestos-roofed house at her homestead, the cement tank is connected to a gutter on the brim of the roof which directs every drop of rain water that lands on the roof into the reservoir. The erratic rainfall that typifies Insiza District may not be enough for cropping, but if harvested can go a long away in quenching the thirst of local folk. Since 2011 when she built the tank, Mrs Sibanda says she has not known water shortages at her homestead.

“The 6 000 litres usually last us three to four months. It may actually last longer, if we chose not to share with some of our neighbours,” said Mrs Sibanda.

Before construction of the tank, Mrs Sibanda said, she had to make several trips daily to fetch adequate water for domestic use from the nearest borehole, 5km for her homestead.

“It’s far much better now. The burden is far less. I no longer need to walk those long distances. I only go there to fetch drinking water maybe once a week. For other purposes we rely on water from the tank,” she said.

Even with the tank guaranteeing her adequate water for domestic use, Mrs Sibanda knows the importance of using the precious liquid sparingly.

Past experiences have obviously made her wiser and “water literate”.

“We have to conserve the water because if we don’t it won’t last us long. I always monitor how everyone uses water from the tank to ensure that it takes us far,” she said.

How does one construct a rain water harvesting tank? According to a model by akvo.org the technique is to start with building a cage of steel reinforcement bars covered with chicken wire mesh.

Alternatively one can start with an inner form of metal sheets, which is later removed. Once this structure is established, a cement mixture is applied around the structure. The thickness of the walls is in the range of 10-30mm.

During curing period of at least 10 days, (although 30 day is preferred) the cement is kept wet and wrapped in plastic sheet.

Thereafter the tank will be ready for use. ZimPro executive director Mr Tobias Chipare said his organisation selected a few homesteads in Insiza to pilot the rain water harvesting programme in 2011.

He said the success recorded thus far was evidence that communities in drought-prone areas needed to adopt the technique in order to adapt to climate change effects.

“The pilot project has been successful and we are pleased. Funds permitting we would have loved to cover all homesteads.

“These tanks are cheap such that a person can, with their own resources, build their own. This is just an example which we hope other communities will emulate,” he said.

A respected water conservationist from India, Mr Ayyappa Masagi believes that there is all the water humanity could ever need if people harvest what is given to them by nature.

“On one square metre of the road in Bangalore, every year, we are going to lose 1 000 litres of rainwater (if not harvested). On one acre, we are going to lose a minimum 18 to 20 million litres of water every year,” he is quoted as saying by an Indian television station ND TV.

Water scarcity is a grim reality for a sizeable portion of the world’s population. According to the UN, 85 percent of the world’s people live in the driest regions of the world.

Major rivers in the region and beyond are slowly drying up with each passing season, and rainfall patterns becoming more and more suspect.

Save and Limpopo Rivers in Zimbabwe, Orange River between South Africa and Lesotho and the Vaal River in South Africa to mention a few are some of the rivers in the region that now resemble pale shadows of their yesteryear selves. The region and the rest of the African continent may need to take a leaf from Namibia. Josephine Philip Msangi in her book Combating Water Scarcity in Southern Africa: Case Studies from Namibia cites the Southern African country’s capital city, Windhoek, as the cradle of water conservation in Africa.

The robust water conservation strategies, including waste water treatment which caters for 25 percent of the city’s water needs, are examples that other countries in the region may learn from. Water-harvesting at community level lessens the burden on both local and central Governments on ensuring that communities have access to water.

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