Nelly Bassily | January 17, 2011
A giant green plastic container stands in Thembekie Gwebu’s yard in Bulawayo. A plastic pipe attached to the gutter on her roof leads to the container. Curious visitors and passers-by ask her what the contraption is, and she happily explains. Mrs. Gwebu, a 60-something year-old widow, uses the container to collect rainwater.
In late 2010, Bulawayo re-introduced water rationing. Rationing is used to conserve water whenever levels drop in the five dams which serve the city. The recent arrival of the rains in this city of two million was welcomed by residents like Mrs. Gwebu. It is an opportunity to collect rainwater for their daily needs.
Mrs. Gwebu says, “This helps during the time when there is water rationing.” The water in her 2,500 litre tank lasts up to a month. But collecting rainwater doesn’t only conserve municipal water in supply dams. In addition, Mrs. Gwebu has no water bill to pay for the month. She adds, “I use the rainwater I harvest for drinking, cooking, laundry and also in the toilet.”
Increasing numbers of city dwellers are rediscovering the practice of harvesting rainwater for domestic use. Many saw it as something only useful for rural communities.
Household rainfall harvesting systems have been recommended by the Southern Africa Development Community, SADC. According to SADC’s Water Division, rainwater harvested from roofs does not require treatment before consumption. Harvested rainwater can ease the impact of long dry spells in cities like Bulawayo.
Barbra Lopi is Communications and Events Officer with the SADC Groundwater and Drought Management Project. She recently visited Maun in Botswana, and was impressed at the extent to which rainwater is used. She says, “Nearly every household, and almost all schools, have a rainwater collection facility, and the water collected is used for gardening and in the toilets and for laundry.”
A shift to using rainwater eases pressure on groundwater. Seventy percent of southern Africans rely on groundwater, though water tables are falling.
Households can store harvested water for later use when there is insufficient rain. Mrs. Gwebu received her large water tank as a donation. Others, like Sithembeni Dube, use makeshift containers. Ms. Dube says, “I use these dishes and jerry cans and it’s painful for me when there is so much rain and I fail to trap the water.” This is a common sentiment in Bulawayo.
The Department of Geography and Environmental Science at the University of Zimbabwe says it is fairly easy for residents to adopt rainwater harvesting technologies, as they are cheap and easy to adopt.
For Mrs. Gwebu, harvesting rainwater is a boon. While most residents have to visit the congested municipality boreholes scattered across Bulawayo when the taps run dry, Mrs. Gwebu hopes her roof will provide her with enough water to drink.