More than 874 million people worldwide lack access to a safe drinking water supply, and 2.5 billion lack access to adequate sanitation service. These staggering statistics are made personal in the WHIL collaboration, where poor access to water is the main priority of the Limpopo leaders we know. There is little water for rural people due to years of drought and prioritizing of commercial orchards (banana, orange, and avocado) for the area’s meager water supply. The villages where we are working receive piped water from the South African municipal government system very infrequently.
For the rest of their water needs, people in both villages draw water for drinking and other uses from nearby rivers, either in buckets or from a village-implemented piping system coming down from abutting mountains. People bathe and do laundry directly in the rivers; both people and cattle have access to the rivers upstream from all the places where water is drawn. Residents store municipal and river water in home containers for later use.
WHIL’s 2009 water tests indicated that all the available water sources, including the municipal water supply outlets, contain higher counts of E.coli bacteria than are considered safe by drinking water guidelines of the World Health Organization (>0 counts per 100 ML.) The river water was found to contain up to 1,000+ E.coli counts per 100 ML, a strong indicator of dangerous water quality with likely links to diseases, such as diarrhea. Little wonder that Limpopo Province reports the country’s highest rates of diarrhea and that residents of our partner villages report year round diarrheal illness.
In May 2008, the team held a Research Goals Workshop at Univen to plan strategies for WHIL site selection, data collection, and assessment of health outcomes and community engagement. In August 2008, the selected villages in the Mutale Municipality, Vhembe District Municipality, Limpopo Province, South Africa, agreed to participate with WHIL in research and service.