Thirsty in a land famed for water

MASERU –– The small stream that has provided water to the people of Tsénola’s village for a long time has run dry.

For years this stream that runs through the village has provided some people with drinking water.

They have washed and bathed in this stream.

The parchedness of the stream could spell disaster for the whole village. Desperate, the villagers have dug a small well on the rivulet.

It is this small well that has been sustaining the village of about 100 families over the past three years.

Their water woes started five years ago when the tap for their piped water broke down.

They reported to the chief and the Rural Water Supply authorities but nothing was done.

Eventually they started taking water from the stream.

But during winters the rivulet dries up and the villagers have to rely on the makeshift well for water.

Today the queue to the well is particularly long.

There are about a dozen people in the queue but the buckets are even more.

Because it takes long to get the chance to fetch the water villagers have to bring more buckets.

And after someone has fetched from the well the next person has to wait for about half an hour for the well to have enough water to scoop water into one bucket.

It’s a long and painful wait that Tsénola villagers have never managed to get used to.

Most of those who have to endure the chilly mornings and the shimmering afternoons are women.

Children are also used.

Men rarely come.

The water is dirty and villagers fear that one day there will be a disease outbreak in the area. 

It produces a disgusting smell that is not normal for clean water.

“We have no other option but to drink from this well. The water is dirty but we do not have any other source,” says ‘Mathabiso Moloi, one of the villagers. 

“We have not had clean water for five years. This has been the only water supply for all these years.”

She says it is a “miracle that the villagers have not suffered from any water borne diseases”.

The well is just a stone’s throw away from a huge septic tank that drains the toilet at the National Health Training College (NHTC).

“It is amazing how God has saved us from all the diseases caused by dirty water. The well is situated right behind the sewer and it is quite possibile that we are drinking water from there,” she says.

“We wait here for as long as it takes until it is our time to scoop the water. It usually takes one up to an hour to fill one bucket. We are all so desperate. No one ever gives up. This is the only option we have.”

Another villager, ‘Mantungoane Nyai, says she has been lining up since 8am but she has only managed to take one bucket home.

Nyai says she has to prepare supper so that her kids can have food when they come home from school.

But she cannot take a chance to leave her bucket. She might be surpassed and lose her chance for good for the day.

“I cannot leave my bucket, no one does. You have to wait here until it is your chance or you lose your chance and go to the back of the line. You have to watch out. We use every chance we can to get the water,” Nyai says.

She says it’s unfair that the government has not done anything about their situation.

“Lesotho has water in abundance but it is so annoying how we the citizens struggle to get a drop of clean water.”

The shortage of clean water is widespread in Lesotho and in many districts distressed villagers drink from unprotected ponds.

The Minister of Natural Resources Monyane Moleleki last year said the government was working to alleviate the overwhelming shortage of clean water supply in Lesotho.

Moleleki was addressing the Lekokoaneng community in the Berea district at a sod turning ceremony to kick-start the clean water supply systems. 

“It is common knowledge that despite having abundant water, most of which is sold to the Republic of South Africa, the Basotho nation is running short of uncontaminated water. Water is a source of life,” Moleleki said.

“Due to the shortage of clean water supply in Lekokoaneng and many other places countrywide, the government found it necessary to answer to this problem. Safe and sheltered toilets are also built to maintain cleanliness.”

Moleleki said schools, health centres, churches and other institutions have been badly affected by the scarcity of water.

“These are the places which need the reliable flow of clean water all the time and they have been suffering. In many cases students and health practitioners have to fetch water from unprotected wells and ponds. This causes deadly diseases like diarrhoea,” Moleleki said.

He said that the government had allocated M6.5 million for the Lekokoaneng project which will sufficiently provide water to 8 830 people.

“In all these projects the government is trying to implement Lesotho’s Vision 2020 whose objectives include self-sufficiency in good governance, good health and education,” Moleleki said.

Yet piped water for most people in Lesotho remains a dream.

In Berea, Mokhathi villagers are also facing water shortages. 

The only source of drinking water for the villagers is a pond in a donga just outside the village.

When the Lesotho Times visited the village twelve months ago, angery villagers called for their Member of Parliament (MP) and Minister of Agriculture Lesole Mokoma to drill boreholes with immediate effect to alleviate the shortage of water in their area.

Villagers said they had battled water shortages for over 30 years and have been relying on a small, unprotected pond ever since. They said they were tired of the unhealthy situation.

Now a year later, nothing much has happened and the villagers say they have lost hope.

“We are still drinking dirty water. There is little hope that anything will be done to correct this situation,” said Limpho Tukula, a villager.

He says the government should have given the priority of access to clean water to its people before exporting to South Africa.

Lesotho gets an annual revenue of about M250 million from water sales to South Africa under the Lesotho Highlands Water Project.

“The whole world knows that Lesotho has lots of water. But most of  its citizens do not have access to water. Selling the water might be good business but what about us?” he asks.  

He says they were shocked to death last year when it was reported that South Africans were hit by a cholera outbreak.

“When the region had a cholera crisis last year we thought the reports would drive the government to respond to our water problems.”

He says just like in the past years the villagers have been forced to draw water from Tikoe River which he says is contaminated.

“The water from Tikoe River carries water from the hospital. However we sometimes drink from it especially when the pond has dried. We are at risk of suffering from water borne diseases.”

“We honestly don’t know why this problem has not been addressed. At this rate I think it is going to take forever for this village to have access to clean water,” he says.

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