Malfunctioning boreholes and general water scarcity at the Sibangani 2 village under the Daluka Ward of Lupane district, about 157km west of Bulawayo, would make Nurse Dube’s heart heavier and worn out sinking her into untold misery.
Each day, with her neighbours, they would wake up at 4am and trek five or more kilometres to a nearby river to fetch water from shallow dug-out wells on the dry river bed.
She would carry a 20-litre container on her head. She would go twice or so to fetch water for drinking, cooking, washing and for her livestock.
Her husband and other males in the area would also travel over long distances to fetch water for livestock and for other needs such as construction.
All relied on the same wells for water and according to reports in the area, people frequently quarrelled over how much the other was using.
Competition for water for livestock and humans was so stiff and disputes were a common problem in Sibangani 2 village and other villages dotted around Lupane.
Lupane district continues to experience severe and back-to-back droughts which has led to clashes for water, deaths of livestock and poor harvests.
The district has gone for more than 10 years experiencing below — average rainfall and several consecutive years of drought leading to the drying up of rivers, reservoirs and wells.
Dube said fighting over water was more frequent and there was no harmony in the village.
“Neighbours, friends and families would turn on each other, desperate to protect what little water there was left,” she said.
“The struggle to survive with very little water proved too difficult for me and all women here. We didn’t have time to socialise with our men or engage in other income generating projects.”
Dube and other women of Sibangani 2 village not only had to trek for hours slicing through trees and dense bushes; they also had to brave snakes and wild animals that lurk in the forest nearby.
Filling the Matafeni dip tank was not easy for her and other villagers.
It would take them two days to fill up the tank.
But ever since a solar water pump was installed at Matafeni dip tank in their village in November last year, conflict over water and other dangers have faded into memory.
The installation of solar water pumps has brought the gift of water, health and a thriving vegetable and fodder gardens which are improving household incomes and food security.
Families at Sibangani 2 including their livestock now have access to clean, safe drinking water throughout the year.
The installation of a solar water pump made through the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in partnership with Lead, an international NGO, has eliminated the labour intensive task of hauling water from far distances.
Under a four-year programme that is being implemented in Lupane and Nkayi districts of Matabeleland North province, FAO and its implementing partner Lead, rehabilitated 43 boreholes, drilled 15 new ones and installed eight with solar pumps.
Scores of people in both districts are benefiting from the programme which aims to improve access to water for both humans and livestock.
“At each site we have an average of 700 cattle now accessing clean water apart from humans,” said Lucia Mwanyisa, Lead programme manager in Lupane district.
“Women no longer spend time to water a herd of animals. We have also rehabilitated 44 out of 73 dip tanks in the two districts.
“The health conditions of animals has improved significantly and livestock deaths have fallen despite the severe drought.”
In Lupane and Nkayi, rains are inadequate and grazing pasture is not enough. Farmers in the area were being supported to access subsidised livestock feed and to grow fodder on small irrigated garden plots.
Now, fast-forward a month after the installation of the solar water pumps, Dube cannot believe herself.
“I can’t believe that I no longer need to wake up at 4am to fetch water,” she said. “The solar water pumps have made our life much better. Conflicts over water have eased, our kids can now go to school, we have more time for our husbands and most importantly we have more time to engage in other income generating projects.”
The installation of the solar water pump has ushered in a new era for the villagers.
This is the first time they are experiencing electricity. The first time they no longer need to walk long distances to fetch water.
“The solar water pump has transformed our lives in a big way,” says Mr Albert Sibanda, chairman of the Matafeni water management committee.
“Our animals are now healthy and the water crisis here has ended. This is amazing and our cattle have been saved. It has pumped new hope into the whole village.”
The cattle in the village are no longer attacked by diseases and parasites.
“Our cattle are healthy and we can now fetch better prices on the market,” Mr Sibanda said. “Before the installation of the solar water pump, one could only get about $150 or $200 per beast, but now it is possible to get up to $600 a beast.”
Heavy reliance on donors is being discouraged. Farmers pay $2 to dip their cattle at Matafeni. They also pay $4,50 a year for maintenance of the dip tank and grow fodder to enhance their incomes for managing the facility.
“We employ two security guards to look after our solar water facility here at Matafeni,” said Sibanda. “It’s critical for us as villagers to contribute something that will ensure that we are able to run the solar water powered dip tank even when our donors have left.”
Even Sibangani 2 headman, Mr Musongelwa Sibanda is ecstatic about the facility.
“The impact of this solar water pump on our life is great. I’m very happy about it and it has brought hope to us particularly now when the climatic conditions have become harsher,” he said.
“Our life is much better. This project has freed our time.”
Farmers also sell fodder, at $1.50 for a bale of grass. The money is used for the running of the dip tank.
Solar energy still remains largely untapped in Zimbabwe and most other African countries despite the numerous benefits that come with solar-generated electricity.
Solar powered water pumps are an effective, long-term solution since the systems are economical, reliable and easy to maintain by the locals, energy experts say.
Diesel powered water pumps have proved to be too costly and unsustainable and experts believe strongly that solar is the way to go.
The new solar powered pumps at Matafeni dip tank makes for a more sustainable and cost-effective water supply.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) says Africa has huge untapped potential for generating clean energy to serve the whole of the continent’s needs, as well as enormous potential for solar, wind and geothermal energy.
UNEP further points out that the development and transfer of clean energy technologies are key pillars in mitigating the causes of climate change and adapting to its effects.
Other renewable energy experts say installation of solar-powered boreholes can produce enough power for income-generating activities such as gardening, livestock production and rural projects helping to improve livelihoods.
They say these can also enhance local community money-generating projects that can sustain rural livelihoods helping to secure long-term food security as well as improved amenities.
Around the world, deforestation, greater weather extremes linked to climate change and population growth are putting ever larger demands on the world’s limited supply of fresh water.
And, efforts to harness every drop of water using sustainable methods can minimise conflicts and make rural people realise the greatest benefits from the solar installations.
“As a community, we have realised value from using solar energy for the first time in our lives,” said Mr Dube.
“I wish this could be rolled out to all villages and then there will be no need for people to go towns in search of elusive jobs.” — Zimpapers Syndication