In the cruel grip of drought

2016-01-21 10:30
Lindiwe Mbatha and her grandchild, Lucia, stock up on water for the next day. The two, who live in the village of Khula, near St Lucia, walk kilometres to the pump every day to fill up their two 25-litre bottles of water that will get them through the day.

Lindiwe Mbatha and her grandchild, Lucia, stock up on water for the next day. The two, who live in the village of Khula, near St Lucia, walk kilometres to the pump every day to fill up their two 25-litre bottles of water that will get them through the day. (Ian Carbutt, The Witness)

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Pietermaritzburg - With the iSimangaliso area in the grips of an eight-year drought, surrounding rural villages are going without water for weeks while waiting for the rains to come.

On Tuesday, iSimangaliso Wetland Park director Andrew Zaloumis explained how the drought conditions, coupled with the partial separation of the Mfolozi River from Lake St Lucia, had negatively affected marine and estuary life that used the area as a nursery.

However, communities living around the park have also had to contend with the drought.

With over 80 000 people living in 15 000 households within 15 km of the park’s estuary system, the villagers of Dukuduku and Khula said they are having to buy water with their meagre wages as they never know when the water pumps in their villages will supply water.

Statistics from a presentation by the park showed that half of the 80 000 people are under 20, with only 16,5% formally employed.

Nearly half have no formal income and a third earn less than R9 600 per year.

“There is a strong dependence on single bread-winners, non-resident household members and state assistance,” said the park.

“Around 70% of households rely extensively on the use of natural resources, access to which is critical for survival.”

Dukuduku resident Phumzile Ndlovu, the sole bread-winner in a family of five, said the drought had made survival “even more difficult”.

Supporting her family, including a small baby, on a social grant had become near impossible under the drought conditions.

“We have water from the wetlands and dams, but it is very dirty and sometimes makes us sick even after we have boiled it,” she said.

“The water point where everyone comes to get water only started working again on Sunday, and it had been dry since the beginning of December last year.

“We have to use what we have. Some people in the village sell water to us, sometimes R2 for a 25-litre bottle, sometimes R6, but doing this every day is expensive.”

She said her grandson had developed a rash from bathing in dam water and she now had doctor’s fees to worry about.

“We are worried. Sometimes the children come back from school and have not had water all day because the school doesn’t have water. It’s not good and it is very hard for us all.”

She said life had been difficult before the drought, but it was “even worse” now.

Khula resident Thembi Nkomo said she walks 10 km every day to get to and from the water pump.

“We carry two 25-litre bottles and fill them up at the pump, but the pump doesn’t always work, or sometimes there is such a long queue that we end up buying water,” she said.

Nkomo said she had returned home with no water some days because the pump was dry and the people selling water were so inundated with customers, they would not sell any more that day.

“Some people want R2 for 25 litres of water and some want R5 — it depends on who you are buying from and how many people are buying — but it has become very difficult to get water,” she said.

A statement from iSimangaliso said that rain in late November had brought some relief to uMkhuze: “40mm fell in the south where it is most needed and about 10mm at Mantuma”.

“The rain topped up pans. This should also bring about a flush in vegetation, but more rain is needed.

“The last year’s rainfall is the lowest rainfall recorded in the past 65 years, according to the records maintained since 1951.

“In terms the of severity of the drought, it is second only to the drought which manifested itself from 1956 through to 1970.”

• chelsea.pieterse@witness.co.za

Read more on:    isimangaliso wetland park  |  drought  |  water

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