By Ufrieda Ho
A storm brews overnight and the heavens open with hours of endless rain. Each drop is a welcome respite for the locals of QwaQwa where the taps had been running dry for more than eight months by the middle of May this year.
The rains may start to fill their dam, but more immediately it means they can fill their buckets to flush toilets or to store it for general use. A few extra buckets of water mean they can supplement their water supplies. Even though municipal water tankers now make the rounds in QwaQwa and the surrounding areas, the tanker rounds can be patchy.
Residents say there seems to be no fixed schedule. So if you are at work or at the shops you’ll miss the tankers. It means residents sometimes can’t plan properly for water collections. It forces those who can afford it to buy bottled water or borehole water from nearby farms. Alternatively they hope and pray for rain to collect a few buckets.
Adding to the constraints there are also reports that some tanker companies have stopped making their rounds because the municipalities have not paid them.
Most of QwaQwa’s water is supplied by the Fika-Patso dam but pumping from the dam stopped by the end of last year as dam levels dropped dramatically.
While the entire region is suffering and small businesses especially are struggling to stay open or to make enough profit, it’s hospitals and clinics that are most at risk operating without clean water. The risk of infection with compromised hygiene and poor sanitation are a very real concern.
Better resourced facilities like the regional hospital, the Mofumahadi Manapo Mopeli Hospital, have in recent months had the budget to buy water harvesting tanks, have portable toilets erected on the property and have been able to outsource their laundry services. Such measures have gone some way to keeping hospitals running and to keep patients safe, but there are no clear long-term or wide-scale strategies or contingencies for a prolonged drought.
At smaller clinics the public toilets are blocked or simply locked up. Staff facilities are closed to the public and staff members flush with collected rainwater. There are no alternative facilities even though patients have to wait long hours in the queues. Running water and flushing toilets are luxuries now.