Turning on the taps

South Africa. For vulnerable rural communities, access to fresh water provides a critical defence against COVID-19…

May 2020

One of the main precautionary measures stressed by the World Health Organisation is the frequent and thorough cleaning of your hands – all well and good if you have an adequate supply of water.

05 March 2020 marked the first COVID-19 cases in South Africa, with lock down measures following shortly after. The needs of the rural communities were real and pressing. And none more so than access to water.

In the rural areas of Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa, more than 12% of the population have no access at all to piped water, with another 13% limited to water from a distant communal tap. Many rural clinics do not even have a direct water supply, and depend on irregular municipal water deliveries, or have to collect their own supply from community taps.

Key COVID-19 priorities were identified by the African Foundation team for the Mpumalanga communities:

  • Clinic access to water, through the repair of existing boreholes
  • Special focus on the children and staff at Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) centres
  • For vulnerable households, with no direct water supply, the allocation of a Hippo Water Roller: 90 l / 23 gallon barrels that provide easy transport and storage of large quantities of water.

Seven weeks after the start of this initiative, significant progress has been made in these and other crucial areas: rural clinics and other special-care centres have been supplied with sanitizers, and 208 households in dire need have received essential food parcels.

Lotus Khoza, Africa Foundation’s long-standing Regional Manager for this area, has been an integral part of the Mpumalanga projects. While he acknowledges that much has been achieved, he is also very clear on how far there is to go. Ongoing education is needed, and behavioural changes take time we don’t have.

Water access within the greater community is still a major flash point. Faced with a limited quantity of water and the choice between drinking it, cooking with it or washing your hands, what will take priority?



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