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SWAZILAND: Joint effort to bring clean water to rural areas

[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]


The project aims to improve access to safe drinking water

MBABANE, 10 Feb 2005 (IRIN) - Swazi authorities and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) have teamed up to improve the accessibility of safe drinking water to rural dwellers.

"My view, based on our surveys, is that we have declining water access in Swaziland. Systems put in place when the economy was good are not maintained," Dr Alan Brody, UNICEF country representative for Swaziland, told IRIN.

Despite its availability, access to water remained limited - about half the one million people in Swaziland currently have access to clean water.

The figure has not changed markedly in recent years. While new initiatives are bringing potable water to rural areas, the residents of growing township slums do not have access to safe water supplies.

"Swaziland has always gone for a high-tech approach to getting water. In general, in most communities you can get water by drilling boreholes. The question is: how do you bring water out of the borehole? In the past, the preference has been submersible pumps, placed underground and run by electricity or diesel; trouble is, when it breaks down, maintenance is expensive," Brody explained.

A pilot project involving 35 primary schools in the drought-prone areas of the south and east showed that access to water was essential for teaching and maintaining student hygiene.

"The Water, Sanitation and Hygiene project focused on providing latrines and making water available for washing and cooking. Stakeholders felt it was a success, and expressed their wishes that it be replicated in all rural schools around the country," said Mduduzi Dlamini, UNICEF's project manager for the initiative.

The pilot project was financed through emergency funds, but expansion of the programme awaits funding.

In Swaziland, water is considered the property of King Mswati III, who holds all natural resources in trust for the Swazi people. Drilling boreholes requires permission from the ministry of natural resources, but requests are routinely approved, said Richard Maphalala of the ministry's geology department.

The high cost of drilling boreholes has, however, proven to be expensive, forcing the local population to seek alternative methods of accessing water.

"The people just scoop up water from the Mnzimene River that runs through town, and the bacteria count is often at dangerous levels," said a city council official from Manzini, the country's most populous urban area.

When a recent tornado cut power in Manzini for several days, the city's water pumps were inoperative and taps ran dry. Water had to be delivered to residential neighbourhoods in tankers, revealing the absence of back-up emergency measures to keep the water supply running.

Late summer rains also contribute to fears of a cholera outbreak among peri-urban river water users, but cholera cases had been kept under control this season, the health ministry noted.

Rural communities may have a preference for state-of-the-art electric borehole pumps, but funding limitations require different thinking.

"We are supporting water catchments systems: at schools, water runoff from roofs can be caught in gutters and taken to storage tanks, said Brody. "A new initiative under development as part of the project is the provision of hand pumps. These user-friendly units depend on manual operation, and can be maintained by communities without expensive expert repairs."


 Theme(s) Children-Health-Other
Other recent SWAZILAND reports:

Senior PUDEMO official arrested for treason,  6/Jan/06

"Sewage sociology" finds condom use rising,  5/Jan/06

13 charged with high treason over bombings,  4/Jan/06

New approach to shanty towns gives residents rights and responsibilities,  30/Dec/05

Brighter prospects for textile exporters in 2006,  22/Dec/05

Other recent Children-Health-Other reports:

MOZAMBIQUE: National immunisation campaign gets underway, 3/Aug/05

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