MASERU — Lesotho today joins the rest of the world in marking World Water Day.
But for many families on the outskirts of the capital Maseru there is little to cheer.
Ntšali Pholoho, 63, from Tšenola village on the outskirts of Maseru, says accessing clean drinking water has been a challenge for years.
Villagers rely on a muddy pond near the village to access drinking water for their animals.
Not far from the pond is a shallow uncovered well where villagers draw drinking water.
This week, he took his cow to the pond for a drink.
But the cow turns away from the water and walks away, in apparent disgust.
Pholoho says the water gets contaminated by raw sewage from the Mohlomi Mental Hospital, the National Health Training College and Makoanyane Barracks.
“We are desperate to get clean water. We don’t even have water for our livestock. The streams are either dry or filled with filthy water contaminated by sewage,” Pholoho says.
Pholoho says the water crisis is likely to worsen this year as it had not rained properly.
“It has not rained this summer. The water sources are now low and they are going to be completely dry soon. People are going to be even more desperate for water,” he says.
“We are heading for tough times where we might be forced to walk as far as Borokhoaneng (over five kilometres away) to buy water.”
A few metres away, ‘Mabokang ‘Matli, is battling to fill her 25-litre-bucket with water.
The bucket seems to take forever to fill.
‘Matli says she has been living in this village for the past three years.
She is however adamant that she cannot continue like this forever.
She says women and children wake up as early as 3am to queue for water.
A delay of an hour or two might mean having to wait for the water until sunrise.
“Most people here have only a few hours of sleep. You have to wake up as early as you can to be able to fill up a bucket or two,” Matli says.
“When you come here in those early hours you are likely to find a long queue of women and children waiting for the water already.”
‘Matli is quick to add that if one fails to get water in the morning they will have to wait until about 8pm to fill their buckets.
“This is not life. I have been waiting for this bucket to fill for over an hour. I have been living like this for the past few weeks but I have had enough. I cannot imagine what the people have been going through over the years,” ‘Matli says.
“It is so risky here. Anything can happen when you are waiting here in the dark to fill one bucket,” she says.
“We have heard stories of women and girls being raped on their way to collect water from wells outside their villages. We are scared for our lives here.”
The villagers’ fears are not without basis.
In Ha-Foso last year two girls aged 13 and 16 were raped in separate incidents on their way to fetch water from a well outside the village.
According to ‘Mathabo Nkunyane, a teacher at Makola Primary School situated within the village, the 13-year-old girl had just arrived home from school when she and the other girls went to fetch water.
The girls were heading back home from the well when a man started chasing them.
“The other girls dropped their buckets and ran away. The victim was running with her bucket still on the head.
“When she realised that the man was getting closer she dropped her bucket. But it was too late because then he grabbed her. He raped her right there in full view of the other girls,” Nkunyane says.
Nkunyane says the water crisis has been unbearable in villages in Ha-Foso.
“People here are thirsty. There are taps around the village but they are of no use,” Nkunyane says.
“Villagers are allowed to draw water just once a week. Even then one family is only allowed to fill a limited number of buckets.”
Water shortage is a common problem in most villages in Lesotho especially in rural villages.
Ironically, Lesotho is endowed with vast water resources.
The government of Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili through the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP), exports about 2 000 million cubic metres of water to South Africa every year.
While Lesotho pumps that precious liquid to Gauteng in South Africa its own people are struggling to access clean drinking water.
A 2010-2012 Lesotho interim strategy for the water and sanitation sector says there is a severe water shortage in the lowlands where about two thirds of the country’s 1.8 million population live.
“The demand for water and its availability are divided, and while abundant clean water resources are located in valleys of the Highlands, they are separated from the main population in the lowlands by a range of high mountains.
“This causes severe problems in planning and managing water resources,” says the document from the Natural Resources Ministry.
But speaking at the unveiling of a new water treatment plant at Ha-Ratjomose in January, Mosisili said the government was committed to providing at least half of the country’s population with clean water in order to meet one of the Millennium Development Goals.
Civil society is also concerned with the water shortage in the country.
‘Mantopi Lebofa, an official with WASH United Lesotho, a coalition of NGOs that fights for people’s right to safe drinking water and sanitation, says even though the world was celebrating the day to call for efficient water use many Basotho were still struggling to access clean drinking water.
She says in Lesotho most people still walk long distances especially in rural areas to fetch water.
While the government of Lesotho has done its best to increase access to clean water, lack of potable water remains a major challenge.
“We urge our leaders to take more action to bring water closer to the people and provide safe and environmentally sound sanitation facilities,” Lebofa says.