by Ruth Aine - 01 February 2016
A few months ago I visited South Africa and stayed at a B&B in Melville, a really cool place, small and cozy. I loved it.
I was there for about five days. On the second last day there was a water shortage. In the past year South Africa, more so Johannesburg, have been experiencing water and power shortages.
I first noticed it when I was at the mall and there was a notice at the toilets, “Out of Use - No running Water", so I thought, Okay, there should be water at the residence. I get there and there is also no water. So I ask the care keepers and they replied that there was scheduled maintenance and it should be coming on soon.
About 10 of us were staying at that place and so we all remained hopeful. At 7:00 pm there was still no water. So I went to the nearby store and picked up bottles of mineral water. Johannesburg was very hot at that time with very high humidity, so I needed the water to clean up before bed and drink as well.
In the morning I was given a five liter bottle of water to help me clean up. Thank goodness my flight out was scheduled for that day. So, I wondered about the hospitals, clinics, factories…how were they functioning?
It got me wondering why adaption was easier for some and difficult for others? To the best of my knowledge this crisis was expected to happen months ago. But what measures were put in place for when it finally started to happen?
I have heard stories of electricity cuts for two hours - and people unable to leave or enter their gates because there is no power. Forgive my insensitivity, but I find that rather laughable. Because in other parts of Africa namely Uganda and Kenya where I have lived extensively, this happens every day and we have learned to live around it and adapt.
As a matter of fact, every family will own jerry cans, buckets and basins. Anything and everything that can hold large amounts of water will be full of water mostly all year round.
Secondly, every house will have a storage tank. Some will be underground while others will be found on top of the houses. This is where the water is collected daily before it is redistributed to various parts of the house. And so, with a shortage the tank, depending on the capacity and usage of the household, will last between one and four days.
There is rain water harvesting and tanks are built solely for that purpose. Houses have gutters that lead to a central collection system that is either a plastic or concrete tank or cistern. That water, when collected, can last up to two months in the dry season.
Doesn’t South Africa have the ocean nearby? Is there no way that water can be purified, and made fit for consumption? Singapore has done so. I have had a lengthy discussion with friends from South Africa about this option, and many will say it is impossible, but in this day and age I refuse to believe that.
I was talking to a friend recently in Uganda and they said that they had invested in creating alternative water and power systems and their homes were running on that. They had solar for the power and also dug up to 80 feet for water, put up a pump and, voila! they had clean water. No need for purification at all. I think that being a developed people it means that there is also room for re-invention, progressiveness and off course, non-complacency.
As climate change continues to be an issue and as populations on the Continent continue to grow, there is need for governments, people, individuals and families to plan. Access to potable water remains a high priority because there are many that do not have any. Those that do, continue to take it for granted. And this has got to stop. It has got to change.