EARTH SUMMIT: Water for Food Movement

By Noor-Jehan Badat

WaterDome – Tshepo Khumbane, 65, sits feet apart, her heaving bosoms and arms jiggling as she speaks with almost violent fervour about the Water for Food Movement.

The Water for Food Movement, an NGO from Limpopo Province, approaches environmental issues such as water shortages, and life holistically. It is sponsored by the International Water Management Institute and lives by the principle "Motho ke Motho Ka Batho, a person is a person through other people”. A retired social worker and development activist, Tshepo talks of how this approach has been her lifelong struggle and how she has passionately urged people, the poorest of the poor, to stand up for themselves and take responsibilities for their hunger, as individuals and as a community.

Members of this movement commit themselves to the long walk in reaching out to people and educating them to fend for themselves and not to completely rely on handouts from the government. “Natural resources are not from the department of environment and tourism, the concept of sustainability is in our selves,” Tshepo says. People in the rural areas are encouraged to recycle grey water (water that is used in the household) by irrigating plants/crops with it, and to harvest rainwater from the gutters of their home or as it runs down from the corrugated roof sheets.

When asked what the movement’s purpose is at the Waterdome, Tshepo simply laughs and says, “to get to government and create an enabling environment through policies. All the displays are part of the lobbying, to change the mindset of all.” Like several other non-governmental organisations at the Waterdome, she came to show the world how possible it is for people and the environment to work together without necessarily doing one another harm. The Water for Food Movement does this by using forgotten, natural, ancient methods, which technology and modernity has replaced.

South African minister of home affairs, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, applauds this approach to the environment and urges individuals to do something for themselves. He says, “My policy has always been, self-help and self-reliance. I believe that the government has certain obligations to the community because we are elected by the people. But at the same time, I don’t think that people should just sit on their buttocks and hope that the government will do everything for them. I do believe that while the government has a role, the people themselves must get off their butt and do something about helping themselves.”

Piers Cross, the manager of the World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Programme, admits that this approach is worthwhile, but it does not go far enough. He explains that although communities can do great things on their own, they will run into problems that they alone may not be able to solve.

He cites an example with water. “Water is a national resource and if communities draw water from a river that has been polluted, a large body needs to be there to regulate and assist.” He says that communities, the government, and private sectors need to work together. Private sectors have a role to play in that it brings in the necessary capital to build things beyond the capacity of communities. “They also have the ability to manage the delivery of water and sanitation more efficiently through private sector principles,” he says.

The management of water will improve when water policies are in place and when policy frameworks change to focus on providing for the poor, and when communities are empowered to assist with decision-making concerning the type of services that are needed in their areas.

Over 1 billion people do not have access to safe drinking water and 2.4 billion do not have access to sanitation services. As the World Summit on Sustainable Development come up with decisions, targets and work on ratifying documents that will change the lives of many, life does not stop for those decisions. Women in rural areas like Tshepo, are out their continuing to fight the big fight against hunger and succeeding at all odds. She concludes: “I am a South African, I am a citizen. Take responsibility.” – Witsnews

August 2002

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