Water saving risks

2018-02-06 06:00

Sustainable Livelihood Foundation, a non-profit organisation in Ebor Road, Wynberg, has won a Wellcome Public Engagement Award, enabling them to continue engaging communities in public health and health science research throughout this year.

Their engagement with the community will be achieved through a participatory and creative project called Bucket Loads of Health (BLH), which responds to the challenges and health risks linked to water saving and water reuse.

The project will bring a team of water microbiologists from Stellenbosch University together with participants from three communities in the Western Cape that vary significantly in water accessibility.

With Day Zero becoming a reality, this award could not have come at a better time.

The organisation will be able to hold engagement activities and talk even more effectively about the challenges and health risks associated with water reuse and saving.

Gill Black from Sustainable Livelihood Foundation says the idea is for the community and microbiologists to come together and have an open discussion on the risks associated with collecting water.

“A lot of people are happy to save water and they are doing so by collecting water from the rain through gutters into a tank. Others are collecting greywater from the washing machine. But not so many people are aware of the health risks associated with this.

“The water is polluted and contaminated by different things depending on where you get it from. So these are the things that we will be looking at and talking to people about how they are saving water and the risks involved. We are all learning and helping one another in the process,” she says.

Bucket Loads of Health has four main phases and will run for a year.

The first phase is comprised of participatory workshops with groups of community members from Enkanini, Delft and the southern ­suburbs.

Participants will work with visual methods including body mapping and personal storytelling, and will produce musical accompaniments, to reflect upon their experiences around water shortage, water saving and water reuse – and what these mean to their health and wellbeing.

Phase two involves bringing the community participants and the Stellenbosch University water microbiologists together in a knowledge exchange and co-learning process. 

The creative outputs from phase one will be shared with the scientists, and the scientists will engage the community members in the need for and implications of their research.

Dialogues around the health risks associated with using alternative water sources will be facilitated to encourage the generation of new ideas for safe water saving and recycling. 

The third phase will bring participants from Enkanini to produce short collective films, to convey their perspectives on the scientific research that is being done on rainwater harvested within their community. 

These films will include the stories, music and maps generated through phase one and will build on the knowledge shared with and by the scientific team.

 The last phase will enable the outputs and learning from the project to be made more widely available through exhibitions in each of the three participating communities. 

Presentations in academic forums and with municipal policy makers will extend the reach of project learning. 
Black says saving and recycling water have recently become urgent priorities for people in the province. 

“In attempts to comply with the heavy demands of water restrictions, residents are experimenting with various water saving methods, including harvesting rainwater and recycling grey water for household use. This urgent response to the worsening drought has introduced a serious public health concern, as the storage and reuse of both grey and rain water are known to carry numerous, significant health risks,” she says. 

Professor Wesaal Khan and her microbiology team at Stellenbosch University (SUN) have been researching rainwater in the Western Cape since 2012. 

As part of this research, they have installed multiple rainwater collection tanks in the informal settlement of Enkanini (Stellenbosch municipality). 
By experimenting with a variety of solar pasteurization systems, the SUN team have been working to understand how levels of pathogenic micro-organisms – that contaminate harvested rainwater and make it unsafe for drinking – can be ­reduced.

Though harvesting rain water might be a health risk Black says it is not all doom and gloom. “Just don’t use that water for drinking or other house hold uses. Available in the market are products that can help lessen contamination. People can make use of that. Also visit the City website on guidelines on how to go about harvesting water,” she says.

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