Where is our water?

Where is our water is a cry heard increasingly around South Africa.

Last week the people of Mpophomeni in their frustration marched on the relevant municipal offices in Howick. With large parts of the town already plumbed and being used to piped water they are rightly frustrated with Midmar Dam in sight and overflowing until recently. The taps in a local school and much of the town are bone dry.

The great bamboozle

There is a perception in South Africa that we live in a water-scarce country and together with climate-change we simply have to accept that grave shortages will in the future be the new norm.

The truth is though that even in very dry areas more water falls from the sky on every village, town and city than is used in its reticulation[1]. So bamboozled are we that we cannot conceive that this rainfall could possibly be harvested and stored for when it needed.

“One of the saddest lessons of history is this. If we have been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We are no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It is simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves that we have been so credulous. So, the old bamboozles tend to persist as the new bamboozles rise.” 

- Carl Sagan

South Africa has more than enough water for urban-dwellers without the building of massively expensive dams and costly reticulation. For agriculture and industry it is another story.

Fibreglass rainwater tank.

The Irish wag, Oscar Wilde, once wrote that the only problem with progress is that it goes forwards instead of backwards. He has got a point though not many of us would give up on our new toys.

In similar vein to the cry for water, where is our electricity could be shouted from the rooftops, equally falling on deaf ears.

The answer to these thorny questions, of course, is that the rain and sunshine are falling like manna from heaven; all we have to do is collect and store them. But instead we let the water run away into the ground, wasted. Eight percent would apparently reach some river and possibly eventually be dammed.

Enough water descends on every roof during the rainy season to supply the home for a whole year. A hundred cubes falls on a  small house and 500 on a large building; both would be ample for the poor and rich inhabitants. All that is needed is gutters, a couple of large tanks and more importantly a change of attitude.

Water scarcity in the world is a reality in many places but more often than not there is more than enough if we simply started to harvest and plant the rain, as Brad Lancaster says. See his truly amazing TED talk[1] below.

“We cannot afford to differ on the question of honesty if we expect our republic permanently to endure. Honesty is not so much a credit as an absolute prerequisite to efficient service to the public.

Unless a man is honest, we have no right to keep him in public life; it matters not how brilliant his capacity.”  

- Theodore Roosevelt

The state must supply me with my needs must change to I will become resilient and provide for my own requirements. As far as water is concerned, the cost of collection and storage at home is not a massive investment.

Disturbingly, the memo given to the authorities contained an emphatic no to the use of Jojos. Perhaps what was meant was a denial of tanks to be filled by unreliable tankers; that I can agree with.

Just as important as the water itself is, let us not forget to reflect on the quality; that has certainly regressed.

Really I would like to rephrase the question. Where is our clean water?

Recent research indicates that we swallow about 5g of plastic per week, the size of a credit card, mainly from our municipal and bottled drinking water.

And secondly medication, researchers have found up to 300 times the safe amount, whatever that it, finding its way into our water, making the bugs resistant to antibiotics and killing hundreds of thousands of people.

Harvesting and storing the rain does have a few perils of its own, but nothing when compared to no water at all, or the plastic and antibiotic residues in the municipal and bottled stuff. Very toxic chlorine and fluoride and their inter-reaction with organic material  also come into the equation.

An underground reservoir, properly built and plastered is both far cheaper than tanks and safer because the water is kept extremely cold even in midsummer. I know for a fact that the people of Mpophomeni have the skills to dig a large hole and brick up a reservoir. Who will be the first?

Provision of quality water is failing world-wide and clearly our municipalities in South Africa simply do not have the wherewithal to provide new reticulation particularly to communities whom they suspect will not pay for it. Be glad if you have water at any pressure coming out of your tap but if you consider it is pristine, think again.

So what are the causes of water scarcity in our world?

Harvesting your own rainwater is a lot simpler than you may think and the cost will be recouped with a few short years; more important it will be far cleaner than what you are now drinking. Just as important, what's potting in the winter garden will coming to a grinding halt.

Rainwater harvesting pipes.

You will need to have plans drawn up if you live in an urban area. This is my water innovation idea; what is yours?

This is a truly wonderful and inspiring TED talk.

  1. Brad Lancaster: Ted Talks: Planting the rain


Our newsletter is entitled "create a cyan zone" at your home, preserving both yourself, your family and friends, and Mother Earth for future generations. We promise not to spam you with daily emails promoting various products. You may get an occasional nudge to buy one of my books!

Here are the back issues.

  • Mill your own flour
  • Bake your own sourdough bread
  • Microplastics from our water
  • Alternative types of water storage
  • Wear your clothes out
  • Comfort foods
  • Create a bee-friendly environment
  • Go to bed slightly hungry
  • Keep bees
  • Blue zone folk are religious
  • Reduce plastic waste
  • Family is important
  • What can go in compost?
  • Grow broad beans for longevity
  • Harvest and store sunshine
  • Blue zone exercise
  • Harvest and store your rainwater
  • Create a cyan zone at your home

Where is our water?

Where is our water really should be rephrased to where is the clean stuff, devoid not just of pathogens but also with no plastic particles and other chemicals.

Water scarcity in our world is just not going to be solved without our involvement.

The completed underground rainwater reservoir.

Handwashing helps stop coronavirus-19

With many homes in South Africa like those in Mpophomeni having no running water in which to wash hands for twenty seconds several times a day, the basics of prevention of coronavirus-19 are well nigh impossible. Especially when people crowd around a communal tap.

The recommendation is to wash our hands with soap,  and rinsing in running water, after visiting public places or coughing and sneezing or blowing your nose; and of course after visiting the loo and before eating. That can readily be ten times a day, each requiring about two litres.

The thought of a family of five requiring 100 litres of water just for washing their hands is patently absurd if you are unable to store the rain, or the unreliable tankers. Of course it could be reused in the flushing of toilets or to water the garden.

It all depends on how much water you can store in your home. With inadequate supplies being the single greatest cause of child mortality from diarrhoea in many countries, thoughts of storage of the rain in our own homes and gardens needs to be central. It is no coincidence that those countries with a poor culture of washing of hands are the most affected by coronavirus-19.

This bug has created an unexpected benefit, spurring us on to harvest and store the rain in our own homes. Then we could have clean water not only to drink and wash our hands but also to shower and irrigate our gardens.

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Hilton, KZN

South Africa