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I came across this while looking through old emails. This was the first story I wrote with my then mentor. We travelled to Ladismith in the Western Cape to cover the devastating drought, and water shortage there.

Because the Western Cape is going through this current drought, despite occasional rain, I thought the parallels were interesting. Only a few lines were used from my original story, that is copied below in its entirety.

 

The lifeblood of a Karoo town is at stake as administrative bungling could cost Ladismith its water supply. The small town in the Kannaland municipality is used to droughts and dry spells as the concentric circles of the near-dry dams show a dwindling water supply.

However, in-fighting and political manoeuvring could cost the locals their most precious commodity.

Leon Blignault, the technical manager for the municipality, said the town was not out of danger yet. “At this stage we only have 22 days of water left. We have to keep moving the water pump to adjust to the water level”.

In the dam, a sizable pond is visible, however when Blignault points out the markers for how high the water level is allowed to be, the situation becomes clear.  White stones mark a ring around the top of the dam, with the actual water far down below.

Municipal manager Morne Hoogbaard said at present, the town has experienced a water problem for years.

Hoogbaard, the longest serving municipal manager said the time is right for change, as there is “managerial and political stability”.

A new dam is currently under review, and is expected to be completed by December 2016.

“Water Affairs will fund the biggest portion of the R100-million cost, which will subsidise the percentage of poor people, who get free water. We are submitting in March for the final plan,” he said.

“We have equipped two boreholes that will take care of 30% of our needs. We plan on equipping ten boreholes, that will provide 70% of our water,” he said. The cost of the two boreholes is R2-million, but R10-million is needed for all ten, plus an additional R5-million for further exploration in Zoar. He said the situation in Zoar is “equally serious”.

“It is similar in size to households in Ladismith. It is a coloured community with very little industry,  he said.”

He said meetings take place every week as part of a drought management team, with disaster management, water affairs and the municipality.

“It’s not a problem. That’s something that can be solved”

These were the scathing words of principal of Dankoord VGK Primary, Isaac Hartman.

“The pipe starts up there,” he points to the nearby mountain, “so why does it not reach us down here?” he said.

Hartman alleges that the farmers have siphoned off water before it reaches the community below.

“The problem is that the farmers use the water for their households, not just for farming. Those two tanks can’t run dry in one day. They need to investigate it,” he said.

The health of the learners is a major concern. “We have 144 kids. If that many kids use the bathroom with water, you can imagine”

In the sprawling community of Zoar, 10 kilometres fromLadismith, the situation is dire.

“Mense se magies is in hulle moer,” (People’s stomachs are messed up) said resident Cindy Fortuin. Many in the community have complained of diarrhea.

“The dam is like slime. We don’t have money to buy water,” she said.

Ella Ambros, a mother of three, said she has to buy water for her children, aged 2, 5 and 14.

“We have to cook all our water, and sometimes we have to buy. They don’t tell us what the problem is. There is no notice. We had no water at Christmas. You can’t even wash your white laundry. The old people are also getting sick,” she said.

Councillor Hyren Ruiters from the ICOSA party, who has lived in Zoar all his life, said the solutions are coming, but they’re too slow.

“This is an old system. The pipes are too old. There is some work being done on the main line, but its not enough, and borehole water is expensive. There is also the problem of water theft,” he said, referring to tampering of water meters.

“In December, families come home from Cape Town, then water use increases. Another problem is the bucket system. It uses twice the number of water. Over summer, there is a greater demand for water, but our system is never fixed”.

“The provincial government is not as supportive. They’re just there to make promises, and nothing happens on all levels. All support comes from national. ICOSA and the ANC work well together here.”

He warned of the impending danger of further shortages. “The farmers were affected, and that means our people on farms will be layed off too,” he said.

“Oom” Len Hauptfleisch, with his shock of blonde hair, stands in his dilapidated house that he is trying to fix after it was ravaged by a fire. The dribble of water that he could muster was not enough when the fire broke out in is home.

“I got two buckets and threw it on the bed. That little I got from the bathroom didn’t help”

He jokes that sometimes the water goes from drip system to “no system”.

“Sometimes there isn’t even a drop,” he said. Newly painted walls surround the mess of the fire in his living room, where his daughter sits, as he tries to rebuild his life.

“I can’t count how many times I got water from the neighbours on the main water line. Not for drinking though” he said.

“People are very unhappy here. Administration is the problem. I don’t think the reservoir was ever full,” he said.

Back in Ladismith, local farmer, and chairperson of the Klein SwartbergRivier Water Forum, Hennie Kotze said beyond the actual water crisis, there has been a dire lack of communication between key players.

The forum was established in 2012 to deal with the recurring water crisis.

“The farmers have to share the source with the municipality. With all due respect, we get very little co-operation from the municipality. They want the water, but don’t want to discuss it with us”

He conceded to the conditions of the water act, but emphasised that it should be “only for human consumption”.

He was disgruntled about the lack of cohesion in the forum, which, in theory, includes businesses and representatives of the municipality.

“Provincial does nothing. Last week provincial and Water Affairs were here. We heard nothing. We weren’t involved or recognised.”

“If they’re not willing to talk to us, we’ll take it (the water) back,” he said.

<p>Author <a href=”https://plus.google.com/102128103971030481396” target=”blank” rel=”author”>Jerome Cornelius</a></p>

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