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The Ceres Valley is often referred to as the fruit basket of South Africa – and it’s here that a community approach to water stewardship initiated by WWF South Africa is taking shape.
For years, Catherine Ambraal, a resident of Prince Alfred Hamlet, has been struggling with a leaky bathroom pipe that’s been affecting the foundation of her home and posed a potential health risk to her family.
She is also becoming increasingly frustrated with the neighbourhood dogs that dig into her rubbish bags, sending her weekly refuse flying down the street and into the nearby Wabooms River – a tributary of the Breede River in the picturesque fruit-farming Ceres Valley.
These are among issues Ambraal raised during a recent visit from a group of volunteers among residents, who go by the name of the Witzenberg Water Savers.
The Witzenberg Water Savers are taking a hands-on approach to tackling key water related issues in the Nduli and Prince Alfred Hamlet settlements, that pose water quality risks in this municipal area.
As part of a community door-to-door initiative, they regularly visit residents to talk about water problems that needed addressing, such as leaks, overflowing manholes and its causes, high levels of litter in stormwater drains and riverbeds, or the need of health and dignity by keeping communal toilets clean.
Says Ambraal: “When they first came to my door I thought it was a good thing because there are so many people, especially elderly people in the community, with so many water-related problems.”
“The community should stand and work together to make their voices heard but to also help each other…and there are those of us who do care about what happens in here.”
Both Nduli and Hamlet, as the residents call it, are connected to rivers and drainage channels of the Breede River that feed local dams used to irrigate stone fruit and other local produce – something that many depend on for work.
A growing population and expanding urban areas often add pressure on local resources and can potentially lead to poor water quality affecting catchments, canals and tributaries.
Kholosa Magudu, WWF-South Africa’s contracted project manager for the Witzenberg Water Savers, explains: “There is an ever-growing number of seasonal work-seekers around fruit harvesting months . Continued urban growth translates into pressure on water and sanitation infrastructure. This translates to adding stress on the supply of basic services and pollution, risking water quality of supplies downstream of the Ceres valley”
Magudu says that while the programme has begun to take shape there is still much work to be done.
“We ultimately want to be at that point where we’ve enabled the volunteers to be self-sufficient and are able to strengthen relations and engagements with the correct stakeholders so that they can garner the necessary support to enable them to prosper and address key water issues.”
'We need to care’
When the Witzenberg Water Savers started in Prince Alfred Hamlet around two years ago, one of the first initiatives implemented by the volunteers was the cleaning up of the heavily polluted Wabooms River.
A river assessment revealed contamination resulting from uncontrolled storm-water discharge and informal agricultural practices.
In Prince Alfred Hamlet, where there are more formal housing structures, the focus has been on litter and pollution. More recently, the door-to-door outreach was initiated in Prince Alfred’s Hamlet to get a better understanding of the on-the-ground challenges and to find potential solutions to their water-related concerns.
In Nduli, where there are fewer formal structures, the Witzenberg Water Savers have started a vegetable garden at a local school, formed a toilet committee to monitor communal facilities, and developed a manhole monitoring system to enable a rapid response system for municipal plumbers to respond to blockages and bursts and a clean-up campaign.
The formation of the Witzenberg Water Savers has been an important step in an approach to involve urban residents in pressing water quality issues in the upper Breede catchment.
Shaun Moses, a member of the group, said he became involved with the project because he saw a benefit for the broader community and believes in leading by example.
“We need people in the community to care… Everyone must get involved so that the community will be clean and free of sickness .”