Isabel Faherty '21
How a Water Crisis Compounds COVID-19 in South Africa
Living through a water crisis is a difficult reality for many citizens in South Africa. This semester, I studied for two months at Rhodes University in Makhanda, South Africa, an area currently experiencing a water crisis. Makhanda is a town in the Makana Municipality in the Eastern Cape province of the country. The area has been going through severe droughts the past few years, and the water infrastructure in the town is failing. I experienced the consequences of this water crisis while living in the residence halls and often discussed with my peers the causes and effects of the crisis. The water crisis in Makhanda is especially dangerous now regarding the current global pandemic: Covid-19.
I remember sitting in the library at Rhodes reading the news in March 2020 around the time that the disease was declared a pandemic. The main advice of the health organization was seemingly simple: “wash your hands.” Yet, this simple activity is not easy when a town or country is experiencing a water crisis. The water in Makhanda is shut off every third day, and sometimes can be turned off for up to a week. As of March 19th, 2020, the Makana Municipality declared that water cuts will continue, and that it is up to residents to save water for the days it is shut off in order to wash their hands. Right now, two people in Makhanda have tested positive for Covid-19. There are plans for the Red Cross to set up local hand-washing areas, and the Eastern Cape declared that water tanks and soap will become available to places experiencing droughts. However, the logistics of neither plans were given. Water is a human right, and the lack of it can result in detrimental health issues, especially with Covid-19 spreading rampantly.
While most people would not be too enthusiastic about studying abroad somewhere experiencing water shortages, I have been passionate about climate change and the water crisis for years now and therefore was very interested in learning more from citizens of South Africa. When I was in Makhanda, the water crisis was more of an inconvenience for me rather than very life-changing. However, South Africa has the highest rate of inequality in the world and for many citizens the lack of running water as well as lack of safe drinking water is harmful to their health and sanitation needs. Though some solutions are up to the local leaders of the municipality, such as maintaining the poor water system infrastructure, other feasible solutions include installing water tanks for those who need them most and educating people about water conservation in order to permanently change their relationships with water. An ongoing water crisis is not inevitable in Makhanda, and there are enough resources in this world to feed, educate and quench the thirst of every person living in poverty. The issue is getting these resources to the people who need them most and figuring out ways to implement sustainable solutions.
Isabel Faherty '21