While the National Department of Health and various global health organisations advise the public to regularly wash their hands for a least 20 seconds to help minimise the spread of Covid-19, what happens when one lives in an area with consistent water shortages and failing sanitation infrastructure?
This is a question rural residents in Vhembe, Limpopo have had to address. Water supply in the region has been inadequate for years, and the preventative measures called for may remain a dream as residents preserve the little water they have for household purposes such as cooking.
On Monday, Health MEC, Dr Phophi Ramathuba announced that a 28-year-old medical doctor tested positive for Covid-19 on his return to Limpopo from Europe. The MEC called on people to continue practising proper hygiene to help combat the spread of the virus.
Despite persistent promises made by the Vhembe District Municipality, which is the sole provider of water within villages in Vhembe, most villagers remain without water, while others receive water supply occasionally from the boreholes erected within their villages. Villages such as Mpheni, Vuwani, Waterval, Mabila and many others continue to battle severe water shortages.
‘We need to protect ourselves’
For Mavhungu Mukwena, an Elim resident, it has become a tough task to preserve the limited water she has for household purposes, to ensure that herself and six other family members practise proper hygiene in light of Covid-19.
“You know we had water problems here for many years, but because we care about our health and those of our children, we ensure that we practise proper hygiene using the limited water we have. We sometimes get water from the borehole — and this might happen once a week, or sometimes even after a few weeks. Sometimes we have to buy from our fellow villagers, but there’s nothing we can do,” Mukwena says.
She further says: “Although the government fails to provide us with water, as they promised us, it remains our duty as residents to protect our health no matter what the cost. We have to sparingly use the water we have, to ensure that we heed the call from the government to wash our hands all the time.”
Water, a basic human need
Vumbanani for Peacebuilding, a non-profit organisation based in Elim, which advocates for the rights of citizens, says that most violent protests are being driven by poor service delivery such as shortages of water and adequate sanitation. Bertha Chiguvare, the director of the organisation, has engaged with communities about how they can exercise their rights, and raise their challenges pertaining to water shortages without participating in violent protests.
“Water and sanitation are linked to a number of fundamental aspects of human welfare such as health, dignity, safety and security, even environmental well-being. But if you look at our communities, they face daily hazards when it comes to health, safety and psychological well-being caused by a lack of access to clean and decent water and proper sanitation. This challenge has severe impacts more especially on women, children and people who are living with disabilities as some of them cannot travel long distances to access water or afford to buy from those who have boreholes at their homes,” says Chiguvare.
“It’s mostly people in the informal settlements, black communities or historically disadvantaged communities and rural schools who continue to face such challenges. This has a direct impact on the ability of people to participate as equals in all aspects of society — it’s fundamental in achieving the constitutional goals of social justice and better lives for all,” she says.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), water safety and quality are fundamental to human development and well-being.
“Providing access to safe water is one of the most effective instruments in promoting health and reducing poverty,” WHO states.
Boreholes for some
Chiguvare says that most communities still buy water from those who are privileged enough to have private boreholes which are drilled on their properties. But not everyone can afford to purchase water on a daily basis.
“It’s actually touching that some community members are buying water R3 for a five-litre bucket on a daily basis. How many buckets are they supposed to purchase, just to use water for household purposes?” she asks.
Sylvester Mulaudzi, a resident of Waterval who has advocated for proper water supply for his village, and surrounding villages, believes that this is the right time for the government and local municipalities to address their water shortages.
“This is the time for our government to address water shortages at our rural villages so that we can practise proper hygiene to protect ourselves against this pandemic,” he says.
The Vhembe District Municipality failed to comment about their role in ensuring adequate water supply to the region, or what they are doing to make sure that villagers have the water resources to not only run their households but also for regular hand washing and other Covid-19 related hygiene practices. – Health-e News