Bringing Water to Swaziland

Courtney and one of her community members
By Courtney Sipes
April 18, 2018
Community members preparing area water tank will be built on.
Community members preparing a concrete tank .

From the time I arrived in my community, my counterpart has been dedicated to finding a solution to the recent water crisis. After years of drought in Swaziland, access to water has become increasingly difficult. As a country largely reliant on subsistence farming, the effects of the drought have been devastating, especially in the rural areas.

As part of a community-wide assessment during integration, my counterpart and I conducted homestead surveys, where families were given the opportunity to express their concerns and hopes for our community. Through these conversations, it was quickly apparent that access to water was a common issue for which they wanted a solution. In fact, most homes are over a kilometer from the nearest water source, and at certain times of the year, even those have been known to run dry.  Hundreds of homesteads, schools, and the local clinic have all been affected by the drought. It is not uncommon to find that the schools aren’t serving food because of a lack of water to cook with that day. 

Inner layer of the concrete tank
Inner layer of the concrete tank

After attempts at other water projects were unsuccessful, my counterpart remembered a solution he had heard about years before: concrete water harvesting tanks. He couldn’t remember the organization that conducted the training on these tanks, and had lost the contact to the representative, but we set out to find them regardless. After checking with one organization in town, we were then pointed to Women in Development, the government organization that trains communities on the building of these concrete tanks. The organization offered to send trainers to our community and conduct the training over three weeks, as long as the community could provide lodging for the trainers.

The concrete tanks are a great solution to the water crisis because they are lower in cost and less fragile than the commonly used plastic Jojo tanks. The concrete tanks are also built to include a filter system to ensure access to clean water, a lid that is easily removed for cleaning inside the tank, and concrete gutters that make it affordable to catch as much rainfall as possible.  

Community members securing  concrete tank, so that it may dry.
Women securing a layer of the concrete tank.

There was a lot of excitement around this project once it was announced, with up to twenty community members attending the meetings before the project began. On the first day of the project, my counterpart and I worried that the rains would keep people away, but by the end of the day, twelve people had come to begin construction on the first tank.

Over the course of the training, three water tanks were built, and with each new tank, community members became increasingly responsible for the construction. This was the most important part of the training, as it guaranteed that the participants would be able to continue to build more tanks on their own, making the project sustainable. The locations of the tanks built during the training were chosen based on their accessibility.  One tank was built at the chief’s kraal, next to a garden benefiting the orphans and vulnerable children of the community. The other tanks were built at the primary school and preschool.

Women spreading cement to make the structure.
Women spreading cement on the structure.

One of the challenges we faced was a fluctuation in the costs of the materials needed. The trainers and project leaders had to compromise on how we could best use the funds to get the most out of the project, making sure that the community members would still learn how to build the tanks and gutters. By working together to find a solution, we were still able to build three tanks and two sets of gutters.

The concrete tanks have gained a lot of attention around the community as people have watched them be built. Several individuals, as well as the local high school, have expressed interest in having those trained build more tanks for them.  As these tanks continue to build momentum, my counterparts and I are eager to see the positive impact they will have on our community.

Completed concrete tank
Completed concrete water tank.
Courtney Sipes