QUTHING – It is still early morning but the sweltering heat has already enveloped the entire Pontšeng area like an open iron smoldering furnace.
Weary and visibly bewildered, 11-year old Thato Chombo remains in her place in the desperate queue. It’s 9.20 am. But the girl, together with her equally tender aged friend, Lineo Daemane, say they have been in the queue since 4am. All to try and fill their 25 litre containers with water from a tiny well that has become the major source of water for dozens of families living around Pontšeng.
“I woke up very early in the morning. At around 4:00 am. I joined Lineo here. There were already other people who arrived at the well before us and we joined them,” says Thato.
Also in the queue is a 16-year old Mary Mosoang who said she woke up “between 2am and 3am” that morning to fetch water from the scanty well.
“Yet when I got here, there were already other people who came earlier. Some people wake up at midnight to come and collect the water here. The water is very scanty from the well. So even if you are early, it takes you time to fill the container because you still have to wait for the water to fill up in the small well before scooping it in the bucket,” explains Mary.
The well looks so small that even at full capacity, it can hardly fill up a 5liter container. Yet it has turned out to be “the only reliable source of water” serving dozens of families within Pontšeng’s vicinity. The water percolates into the well slowly from underground. As enough water to fill a small cup trickles into the well, it is scooped out by the first person in the queue to fill their container.
It’s a very slow and painstacking process. But for the residents of Pontšeng, one and half hours drive from Quthing, this is the only way to extract “clean” drinking water. In fact the unprotected well is their natural spring.
All the other sources of water in the area have dried up due to the current crippling drought. The small river which cuts across the seven villages of Pontšeng has almost dried up and with its little water it holds is used for the animals.
All the taps installed in the 1970s through a European development agency to help villagers gain access to clean water from structures build to store the water have dried up.
It takes a substantial amount of time for one villager to scoop enough water to fill a 25 liter bucket as the water filter very slowly from the underground into the well.
Fifty Four year old ’Malomile Mosoang says the well has become their only reliable source of clean water after all other sources ran dry beginning October last year.
She says: “The struggle for water in this area started in October. Other sources of water, including the community taps donated to us by development partners, started drying from then. We have since sought help from every relevant authority and we are still waiting patiently for any help to come our way.”
Seventy year old Nekola Masonko says he has lived most of his life in Pontšeng but “life has not been this much difficult. This drought is simply unbearable.”
Mr Masonko appeals to the government and development partners to intervene: “If they can only provide us with experts to come and check how best our water sources from the mountains can be streamed down to villages to provide us with water.”
Mr Masonko says villagers have already identified water sources from the nearby mountains, “but we just need experts to come and help us with the infrastructure to draw this water” It is not possible for humans to walk up the gigantic mountains and down with buckets of water.
The local chief, Tšolo Moeletsi, says all the seven villages within the Pontšeng area, “are in dire need of water because of the drought.” Chief Moeletsi echoes Mr Masonko’s sentiments that they needed experts to come and assist them.
The plight of Pontšeng is a microcosm of the hardships inflicted on people particularly living in remote areas by the current crippling down.
Pontšeng’s seven villages, Phokeng, Mathunyeng, Taung, Makilaseng, Thotaneng and Maebeng, have since been identified by World Vision, under its Mokotjomela Area Development Programme (ADP), to receive humanitarian assistance after an assessment currently underway.
The World Vision’s Humanitarian Emergency Affairs’ (HEA) Disaster Management and Risk Reduction coordinator, Beketsane Ntsebeng, says his agency is working with the government on a plan to address the water crisis across the country.
Mr Ntsebeng said: “As World Vision, we have partnered with the government and other relevant partners to address, not only the water crisis in Pontšeng but throughout the country because of the ongoing drought situation.
“Actually, we have what we call the Lesotho Vulnerability Assessment Committee which predicts the vulnerability of Basotho on an annual basis. This body conducts assessments every year between May and June. Following the last assessment, it was predicted that 463, 936 Basotho would face a food security crisis during this period.
“This has triggered the government, through the Disaster Management Authority (DMA), to convene us with other stakeholders to come up with a National Preparedness and Mitigation Plan to address, not only the issue of the current water crisis, but the general hazards posed to the country by the drought.”
Mr Ntsebeng says World Vision has since developed its own strategy to address water crisis in Lesotho, among other things, out of the national plan discussed with other stakeholders.
“We hope that from February up to April this year, a thorough assessment will be done and completed. And in June we hope, as World Vision, to start working on proposed activities to address the crisis,” said Mr Ntsebeng.
For the government’s own part, Water Affairs Minister Ralechate ’Mokose announced on Tuesday this week that the government had put aside over M100 million to address the water crisis in the country.
Mr ’Mokose said: “Among the things we are going to do to address this issue is to build a dam within the Makhaleng river. The dam is aimed to supply water to Mafeteng and Mohale’s Hoek. We will also buy about 2000 water tanks to provide clean water to identified areas across the country.”
Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili has since declared a state of emergency over the drought crisis and appealed for help from international development partners.