News Water & Sanitation

Water woes in Limpopo make Covid-19 prevention difficult

Written by Ndivhuwo Mukwevho

Heavy rains have damaged already inadequate water infrastructure in Vhembe in Limpopo. The long wait for running water is making it impossible for community members to follow hygiene-based anti-Covid-19 practices like washing hands.

“It is so painful being forced to drink the same water which animals also drink,” said Ndavheleseni Matshidze, a community leader in the Mabila village, outside Thohoyandou. “But there is nothing we can do as we have done everything within our powers to raise our concerns with our local municipalities but nothing is being done.”

Despite the importance of hand-washing in the battle against Covid-19, water remains a scarce resource in most villages within the Vhembe district in Limpopo. Heavy rains have further damaged already dilapidated infrastructure. Illegal water connections among growing populations and the failure to maintain boreholes and reservoirs are all to blame. Instead, community members say the Vhembe District Municipality has only offered empty promises.

The damage caused by rain also affected water supply at Donald Frazier hospital, outside Thohoyandou. The hospital spent weeks without water running water, relying instead on water tankers from the Vhembe district municipality.

The provincial spokesperson for the Department of Health in Limpopo, Neil Shikwambana, said the water supply at the hospital has now been restored.

“The challenge of water at Donald Frazier hospital has been solved and currently we have no reports of a facility that is going through water challenges,” said Shikwambana.

Communities, however, have not been similarly prioritised.

No access to running water

The Vhembe District Municipality is a sole water provider in the area. It supplies the Makhado, Thulamela, Collins Chabane and Musina local municipalities.

“Heavy rains and severe storms have caused damages to water infrastructures in Vhembe, but constant maintenance is being done to improve water supply in affected areas,” said municipality spokesperson Matodzi Ralushai. “Electricity infrastructures were also affected but Eskom is attending to the challenge.”

Still, Matshidze from Mabila village did not have water even before the rain. They have not had water in the 26 years South Africa has been a democracy even as clean water is enshrined as a constitutional right. Instead, they rely on contaminated river water. Others buy water from villagers who have private boreholes.

“Sometimes you might even think that our village is not part of South Africa as most communities within our country have clean drinking water supply but not us,” said Matshidze. “For many years we have been promised that water challenges will be a thing of the past but here we are still faced with the same problem.”

According to Matshidze, years ago, officials promised to drill a borehole for the village, he and his neighbours are still waiting.

“Currently our only source of water is our local river, which sometimes runs dry during winter season when it does not rain. The Vhembe District Municipality promised us years ago that they will come and drill a borehole which will provide us with water, but we are still waiting,” he said.

“Though they sometimes do send water tankers to the village, which does not even cover half of the village population, they only do that once in several weeks, if not months, which leaves us with no other solution but to use the dirty water from the river or buy from our fellow villagers who have drilled private boreholes at their homes,” added Matshidze.

Other villages struggling

Surrounding villages also battle with water shortages, including the Waterval, Mpheni, Dididi, Tsianda, and Vuwani villages.

Sylvester Mulaudzi, a resident of Waterval, outside Elim hospital, says they have made peace wit the reality that will never have an adequate water supply.

“We have grown tired of complaining as despite how much we voice our complaints to the Vhembe district municipality, nothing is ever done,” said Mulaudzi. “We have been having challenges when it comes to water for many years, as the municipal has failed to repair broken borehole.”

“This side if you do not have money to buy water from fellow villagers who have private boreholes at their homes, you will be forced to rely on dirty water from the river. And mind you a single bucket of water can cost you three rand,” he added.

According to Statistics South Africa, General Household Survey of 2019, which tracks the progress of development and service delivery gaps, less than half of South African homes had piped water. Only an estimated 44,9% of households had access to piped water in their dwellings in 2019, the survey found.

“A further 28,5% accessed water on site while 12,2 relied on communal taps and 2.5% relied on neighbors tap. Although generally household access to water improved, 3.1% of households still had to fetch water from rivers, streams, stagnant water pools, dams, wells and springs in 2019,” said the report.

Mashudu Mulaudzi, a resident of Mpheni village, outside Elim hospital is frustrated with the erratic water supply.

“Though we do get water once in about two weeks, which is often for few hours, I feel it’s not enough to keep us going,” she said. “If you do not have enough water containers to store water for household purposes you’re bound to suffer.”

Broken promises

“Drinking unsafe water impairs health through illness such as diarrhoea, and untreated excreta contaminates groundwaters and surface water used for drinking-water, irrigation, bathing and household purposes,” warned the World Health Organisation.

Still, the Vhembe municipality said it has plans to drill and maintain boreholes in all affected villages.

“All areas which remains without water will be attended with plans of boreholes maintenance in place,” said Ralushai, the municipality’s spokesperson.

The multimillion rand Nandoni dam was completed in 2005 to address water woes in Vhembe. Yet, the residents in surrounding villages still do not have access to clean running water. The National Department of Water and Sanitation did not respond to requests for comment on why they dam is not benefitting surrounding communities. —Health-e News

About the author

Ndivhuwo Mukwevho

Ndivhuwo Mukwevho is citizen journalist who is based in the Vhembe District of Limpopo province. He joined OurHealth in 2015 and his interests lie in investigative journalism and reporting the untold stories of disadvantaged rural communities. Ndivhuwo holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Media Studies from the University of Venda and he is currently a registered student with UNISA.