Thirsty villagers’ tough struggle

Thirsty villagers’ tough struggle

MOHALE’S HOEK – TWO teenage girls sit on empty 25-litre buckets.
There are about 10 buckets waiting to be filled with water at the only spring tap in Ha-Senkatana, a rural village some 10 kilometres northeast of the sleepy town of Mohale’s Hoek.
The girls, aged between 10 and 14 years, say the area around the tap has become their playground while they wait for hours to fill up their buckets for the day.
The two teenage girls were number seven and eight on the queue when they arrived at the tap at 7 am.
Now its midday but they have only moved four places.
It’s an excruciating wait they have learned to stoically endure over the years.
They play games and exchange gossip while water slowly trickles into a bucket.
It takes at least an hour to fill one bucket.

On school days they leave their buckets at the tap in the morning, go to school and come back after classes to continue the agonizing wait.
“We get home as late as 11pm sometimes,” says one of the elder girls.
Almost all the girls here look like they have gone for days without a bath.
With schools closed for the winter holiday, waiting in this queue the whole day for one bucket of water has become their vocation.
The boys hoofing a plastic paper ball near the tap are brothers to most of the girls here.
Most are here to walk their sisters back home when dusk arrives.
Nightfall will find many of the girls here still waiting for their turn to fill their buckets so it’s necessary for the boys to stick around.
There are stories, here and elsewhere in the country, of young girls who are abducted and forced into early marriages on their way from wells at night.
Some have been raped while others have been murdered.

“We are not afraid because our brothers come to fetch us when it becomes dark,” says one of the girls.
Traditionally, it is the role of women to fetch water.
The Lesotho Vulnerability Assessment Report of 2019 tells a similar story of how women carry the burden of bringing water into the house.
‘One bucket per person per round’ is the rule at this lone tap in Ha-Senkatana.
And you fill up the bucket that is next in line even if the owner is away.
Deep in the village Tšoarelo Lekhafola’s daughter is washing her school uniform.
She has just arrived from winter classes at a local school and has to do laundry before joining the queue at the tap.
“We do laundry after a long time because water is scarce,” the mother says.
“Sometimes to save the little water we have we do laundry with the water that we have used to bath.”

“It is better to join the queue, run other errands and them come back when you think your bucket is near the tap,” says village chief ’Maseabata Malebanye.
“We have the elderly people who live on their own and still have to come to the well late at night to get their water.”
This should not be happening in Lesotho, a country seemingly awash with water. Research shows that Lesotho is one of Southern Africa’s principal water catchment areas.
Rainfall and snowfall provides 5.5 billion of cubic metres of water annually.
An additional 340 million cubic metres is in the form of renewable underground water.

Every year Lesotho sells 780 million cubic metres of water to South Africa, mainly the Gauteng province, under the Lesotho Highlands Water Project.
It is Lesotho’s water that makes Gauteng’s industries chime.
Gauteng, the richest province in Africa, runs on Lesotho’s water.
Sandton, the richest square mile in Africa, gets its water from Lesotho.
Since 1998, when the taps to South Africa were opened after the completion of Katse and Mohale dams, Lesotho has received more than M9 billion in royalties for its water.
The two governments will soon build Polihali Dam in Lesotho under the second phase of the project that will provide an additional 490 million cubic metres of water to South Africa.

Soon Lesotho will be pumping more than a billion cubic metres of water to South Africa every year.
Yet in places like Ha-Senkatana the people scrounge for water.
It’s not that Lesotho is selling water that should be used by its people.
The truth is that Lesotho has more water than it needs.
Therefore exporting it makes economic sense, especially for a country with a few natural resources to sell.
The issue, rather, is that the Lesotho government is failing to harness the water and channel it to its people.
The solution in most cases lies in boreholes and pipes from main water sources. In some places a water tank could drastically improve the situation.
But it takes years, if not decades, for some villages to get these from government.

Government officials normally tell villagers there is no money.
When the money is there it takes long to get it released.
When it’s eventually released bureaucracy jams the progress.
The people of Ha-Senkatana are familiar with the red tape in government when it comes to service delivery.
Ask Paki Makutoane, the councilor of Ha-Senkatana, who has been knocking on government doors for years.

Recently the he got some “encouraging news” from Rural Water Supply, a government department that builds water supply infrastructure in the villages.
“We were told pipes and all equipment had been bought but the problem was money from the headquarters delaying to be transferred to the district office,” Makutoane says.
The Rural Water Supply is largely efficient but it runs on a shoestring that makes it insanely difficult to deliver on its mandate.
Because it doesn’t generate its own money the department relies on the little it gets from a government that is already battling to solve too many problems with a small kitty.
Makutoane blames the lack of progress on the perennial changes in government.
“Every time we think we are winning the government changes and we start all over again,” Makutoane says.
“The people governing our countries are not interested in our demands but only in enriching their lives,” he says.

In Ha-Senkatana there people who sell water from private boreholes but the price is too steep for villagers, most of whom live in abject poverty.
For those with boreholes selling water is a lucrative business.
Villagers pay as much as M8 for 20 litres.
For a fee of M80 a villager gets water for a month but is limited to four twenty-litre buckets per day.
A year ago villagers were paying M50 for a month’s supply.
Makutoane says the increase is due to the drought and demand.

In towns, where water is provided by the Water and Sewerage Company (WASCO), it costs M5.38 per 1 000 litres.
“It has divided my people because only those that can afford to buy water have the privilege of not staying all night waiting for the well to fill up,” Chief Malebanye says.
’Malipuo Senekane, 71, was born, raised and married in Ha-Senkatana.
Senekane says there used to be three springs in the village and a small dam.
Two springs and the dam have since dried up.
“Water was not a problem at all. Back then we were rich in water supply. The fields were ploughed on time, harvest was beautiful and we didn’t have so many people migrating from Lesotho to South Africa to get jobs to feed their children,” Senekane says.

Senekane now lives with her grandchildren because one of her daughters is in South Africa working.
She no longer goes to the well because she broke her leg while trying to walk down a small cliff that leads to the well.
“My leg does not allow me to walk down (to the well) anymore and so my daughter sends me money every month to pay for my monthly water and food,” she says.
She uses a wheelbarrow to collect her water.
Mohale’s Hoek is one of the districts hit hard by the drought.
In February the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, Léo Heller, visited Lesotho.
His assessment of the water situation in the country was sobering.
“Several gaps in access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene strongly impact the well-being and livelihoods of the Basotho people,” Heller said in a statement at the end of her visit.
“Water and sanitation are a bottleneck that holds them back from improving their lives, making choices on their way of living and expanding their freedom,” Heller said.

Heller said in Lesotho, water sanitation and hygiene are a driver and multiplier of vulnerability, leading to a negative impact on human development.
“Instead of going to school, interacting with peers, taking time to study or learn skills that eventually shape the basis of livelihood, many Basotho, particularly girls and women, spend their time walking and queuing to fetch water”.
Indeed the girls by the well Ha-Senkatana say they don’t have time to study because they get home very late.
Sephapho Mokoroane, Mohale’s Hoek district engineer at the Rural Water Supply, said Ha-Senkatana is among a list of villages that will have “high capacity boreholes drilled in this financial year, however, they still need to identify water saturated areas within the village”.
“It is quite a big village with at least 1 000 people to cater for and it means there is need for a few taps to be erected in order to adequately accommodate all the villagers,” Mokoroane says.
Mokoroane says after identifying water saturated points they will start on the constructions of taps.
He does not say how soon they will start “because all of the paperwork is already at the headquarters waiting for a direct go ahead”.
He says they have asked WASCO to assist with water tanks while they wait to drill the boreholes.
Until that happens the girls in Ha-Senkatana have to endure the long queues at the tap that serves a few hundreds.

Meanwhile the officials at the Ministry of Water do seem to notice the irony of boldly claiming that “Lesotho is well endowed with relatively abundant water resources” on the ministry’s website.
The ministry says its vision is that “By the year 2020, the Basotho nation shall have an improved standard of living through a well-developed water resource base and Sanitation”.
The mission is “To provide sustainable development and management of water resources, and provision of potable water and sanitation for socio economic development of the Basotho”.
One of its main objectives, the ministry says, is “to increase access to portable water and sanitation services to all consumers, reliably, affordably and on a sustainable basis”.
The people of Ha-Senkatana are waiting.

Rose Moremoholo

 

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