Access to clean water changes lives

The 2015/16 El Niño drought proved to be the worst drought Eswatini has experienced since 1992.

Astrid de la Rey
A young child smiles in this close-up image, holding a white bucket on their head
UNICEF Eswatini/2017
09 April 2020

October 2019 – It’s a cool morning in Lomahasha, a village in the eastern part of the Lubombo region of Eswatini. The peaceful sounds of nature are interspersed with the laughter and chatter of women on their morning walk to collect water for the day. Among them is Busisiwe Jambane, a 38-year-old mother of four who was born and raised here.

She smiles as she picks up one of her empty buckets and heads down to the Sicatfulo – the name of the spring that runs past the village. It’s a fair hike down to the water collection point, but according to Busisiwe, “This is nothing! In the past we had to queue for a long time as the trickle of water was thin and slow. It took very long just to fill one bucket, and now it takes only a few minutes. Thanks to World Vision for rehabilitation and protection of the spring through financial support from UNICEF,” she says.

Previously, the spring and well were open to the elements allowing for contamination all along the water route. Villagers and cattle shared a water source and, according to Busisiwe, there were plenty of mosquitos and other insects in the water. “It wasn’t clean”, she says “there was always litter in the spring or well and many people in our village used to get sick from the water. But we had no other choice, it is the only water anywhere near our village. Sometimes the stream would dry up completely and we would have to walk for an entire day to get to another stream at a nearby village.”

This narration by Busisiwe is a stark reminder that in a country where over 350 000 people (165 000 of them children) are affected by drought, access to clean drinking water remains a priority.

The 2015/16 El Niño drought proved to be the worst drought Eswatini has experienced since 1992. In response to this urgent situation, UNICEF in partnership with World Vision and Eswatini’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Energy instituted the WASH programme. This initiative focuses on water, sanitation, hygiene, health and nutrition specifically for women and children in the most severely affected areas. Since 2016 the programme has implemented six spring protection projects and built 33 water collection points in the regions that are most severely affected by the drought.

A child holds their hand under a stream of water coming from a tilted white bucket.
UNICEF Eswatini/2017

“We are proud of our spring and we are all involved in protecting it”

Busisiwe Jambane

“We are proud of our spring and we are all involved in protecting it”, says Busisiwe, “every day our RHM (rural health motivator) does an inspection and makes sure everyone keeps the area around the collection point clean. We remember how difficult things were, and how dirty the water was before, so we all work together to make sure it stays in good condition. Without this clean water we cannot survive.”

The success of these protected springs and water collection points can be seen in the overall health of the community. According to Busisiwe there are hardly any cases of children with diarrhea since the new water point was put in place. “My own children are healthier, and I can’t remember the last time one of the village children got so sick or dehydrated that they needed to visit a clinic.”

In addition to the obvious benefits of having access to clean drinking water, the knock-on effects of the WASH programme have been life changing. Busisiwe now has her own small vegetable garden, and she sometimes sells her home-grown spinach to other villagers, enabling her to earn a small income for the first time in her life. “I am also taking sewing classes now”, she says, “and I couldn’t do that before simply because I didn’t have time. Before the new water point was installed more than half my day was taken up just to collect water for drinking, cooking and washing. This has made such a big difference that I now have time for other things, and I want to learn a new skill so I can provide more for my children.”

For UNICEF, projects such as these are crucial for the betterment of rural communities. Busisiwe’s story is a prime example of the impact the WASH project has on individual and community lives.