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Reflections on the fieldtrip with ‘Water Man of India’ 

Community development projects can become more sustainable and much more visible with the enhanced spirit of community participation and ownership, said Mr Rajendra Singh, a well-known water conservationist known as the 'Water Man of India', and a recipient of the Stockholm Water Prize in 2015.

Rajendra Singh visited the village of Ribungwane in Thulamela Local Municipality (Vhembe District Municipality, Limpopo Province) on 2 March 2016 as part of a knowledge exchange workshop.  The event was attended by officials from Water Research Commission (WRC) and Limpopo Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (LRDA), and hosted by the NGO Tsogang Water and Sanitation, a local non-governmental organisation operating in the Tzaneen area to support municipalities in the delivery of water services to rural communities.

Water conservation and proper management are critical practices in rural communities such as Ribungwane in ensuring that, despite the ongoing drought, this scarce resource is properly looked after and used to serve the many communities in dire need of water for varied uses.  The WRC has conducted numerous studies on rainwater harvesting and conservation, and at this knowledge exchange workshop the LRDA shared their findings on rainwater harvesting for crop and rangeland productivity in Limpopo province. In particular, Tsogang's rainwater harvesting and water management initiatives were showcased. Of special interest were the initiatives that were supported by the municipality in providing communities with water for more than just domestic purposes.

Ms Virginia Molose, who is responsible for managing research projects on multiple water use at the WRC, highlighted that it is high time that municipalities, particularly those in rural areas, start reflecting on the appropriateness of the current urban-biased water services delivery models, which speak to the single use of water services, applicable mainly to urban communities and inappropriate to rural communities which require water for multiple uses.

Ms Molose further stressed that rural communities depend on agricultural activities and other income-generating activities at a small to medium scale for their livelihoods, rather than on income earned from employment opportunities that exists mainly in urban and rarely in rural areas. Water is central to these activities if rural communities are to stand any chance of improving their livelihoods.

Singh enjoyed the transect walk through the community and was shown some of the households using rainwater harvesting tanks provided in 2011 by the Thulamela Local Municipality, through their appointed implementing agent, Tsogang Water and Sanitation.

While Singh was guided on the walk, the Community Development Committee shared the history of the project, its successes and challenges. One of the standout successes of the project is the maintenance of backyard fruit and vegetable gardens using rainwater from the tanks. However, it was also noticeable that some of the households had not maximised on the benefits of having rainwater harvesting tanks.

Dr Singh posed an introspective question to the Community Development Committee and the group: to think about “what are the local solutions required to address some of the challenges experienced by the project?" Dr Singh believes in the strength that lies in local unity when mobilising for change, and constantly looking ‘inward’ first before thinking that solutions to local challenges lie elsewhere or will come from outside.

Singh noted in his address his appreciation for the technically-sound infrastructure that has been provided to the Ribungwane community and stressed that for it to be sustainable there is a need for enhanced community participation in order to instil community ownership and improve livelihoods.

Contact: Ms Virginia Molose by email: virginiam@wrc.org.za

Rajendra Singh's visit to the village of Ribungwane in Thulamela Local Municipality (Vhembe District Municipality, Limpopo Province).
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