Faraway wells are the only hope of acquiring water for Vaka villagers in Bulilima District. When these dry up, as they often do in the searing heat, it becomes a struggle to continue normal life.
Thelma Ngwenya, an elderly woman walks more than seven kilometres to get to a well, which is her only source of water. She cautiously takes each step as she enters the deep well. She moves down the rough steps made of logs leading into the well which is about five metres deep.
Holding a small bucket with a rope tied to it, she carefully lowers it into the well. As soon as the bucket touches the water it takes in a few drops. She pulls it up. Down and up, she repeats this action several times until her 20-litre bucket is a quarter full.
Ngwenya’s daily struggles of acquiring water are typical for most villagers in this community. For more than a decade, Vaka villagers have been facing acute water shortages, a circumstance that has even impelled some villagers to contemplate illegally crossing the border to access water from an adjacent dam on the Botswana side.
Unreliable seasonal water sources and an area which is not so well serviced with boreholes or dams, forces villagers to travel long distances in search of water.
Months ago it was so much better when the villagers relied on the Mokwebana River but now it is drying up. The attempt to draw water from the river bed has been hampered by underlying rocks, which villagers have chiselled using picks to reach the water level. Despite all these efforts, the water source has not been able to suffice for about 32 homesteads in that area. This river separates Zimbabwe and Botswana and the Vaka Village is situated on the upper course of this river.
Vaka Village is also seriously affected by a lack of clean drinking water for both humans and livestock. Women walk long distances every day to look for water and if they find it, the water is usually contaminated and polluted, and with Covid-19 now spreading rapidly, people in rural areas can’t really protect themselves from the disease. They can’t wash their hands regularly, one of the methods deemed necessary in warding off the disease. Lack of water also threatens the food and nutrition security of local communities.
Presenting a grim picture, Ngwenya, explains: “We are able to get little water per household. We can’t meet all our water needs, including cooking and washing, and quenching the thirst of cattle, our only source of meagre earnings given the lack of returns from agriculture.”
“Bathing properly is a luxury,” adds Ngwenya, “we wonder how many more years Government will complete borehole projects, our only hope for a permanent solution to our water woes.”
According to Vaka villagers, at least 10 boreholes are needed to alleviate the water crisis and improve their livelihoods and standards of living.
All these challenges faced by Vaka villagers, have compelled non-governmental organisations, to join hands to solve water problems facing people in Bulilima district by using a simple but highly effective technology of sand dams.
In a bid to address villagers challenges, Practical Action, an international NGO, recently launched a US$1,9 million project in Plumtree called the smallholder women farmers achieving sustainable livelihoods and food security through agro-ecology, solar gardens and natural resources management.
The project funded by UKAid with Practical Action as the implementing partner, seeks to help local communities to survive droughts, enhance food security and improve livelihoods through improved access to reliable water sources.
Moses Tshuma, a technical advisor for Practical Action said they were introducing sand dams as a low cost innovation technology that could help empower rural communities in Bulilima district to gain access to clean water for improved food security, health and income.
“Rainfall patterns are changing and in this dry region, the rains can be intense over a short period of time. Because the land is so dry, when rain falls, the bulk of water is lost to downstream rivers. Capturing this water using sand dams could help trap water which could be useful to improve livelihoods,” said Tshuma.
Sand dams, consist of a concrete embankment built across seasonal streams that flow during the rainy season and run dry during the dry season.
When seasonal rains fall, water collects behind the dam underneath the sand on streams and rivers.
The sand acts like a sponge which filters the water that can be harnessed for up to several months after the rains have fallen.
“When sand dams are built closer to villagers’ homes, it reduces the time they spend looking for water. The dams can last for many years without major refurbishment. The sand dams in Bulilima district are expected to help communities adapt to climate change by ensuring water availability throughout the year for both people and livestock,” added Tshuma.
Many villagers commended the efforts by Practical Action while reiterating on the many devastating effects of lacking water.
“Infrastructural development at the local school came to a halt way before corona started because water is needed in construction work. Young girls have to travel more than four hours after school to fetch water, a situation that makes them vulnerable especially when returning home during the late hours of the evening. As for Corona only God knows if we will survive. We thank organisations like Practical Action which are trying to help us and we hope their efforts will be fruitful,” said Ngwenya.