Women, unity, water: Adapting to climate change and improving livelihoods in Swaziland

from the Int’l Fund for Agricultural Development..

15 MAY 2013 – “If spiders’ webs can unite, they can tie up a lion.” This Ethiopian saying became a reality in the Vikizijula Chiefdom, a small community outside the town of Siphofaneni in Swaziland’s Lubombo region. From 5 March to 15 April, women of all ages came together in the chiefdom and built water harvesting tanks to provide potable water for their families.

Vikizijula is in the project development area of the Lower Usuthu Smallholder Irrigation Project (LUSIP-GEF), an IFAD-supported initiative. This project aims to reduce land degradation, preserve biodiversity and mitigate the impact of climate change through the application of sustainable land management practices – including water conservation, minimal tillage, conservation agriculture, rangeland management, forestation and increased capacity for biomass energy production.

“Our objective is to emphasize good environmental management and community empowerment, and in Vikizijula we have successfully done that,” said Lynn Kota, the project manager. “In this case the partners shared the labour costs equally, and once we witnessed their level of organization and commitment, we were there to help bring water to their doorsteps.”

Training and support 

One of the greatest challenges faced by communities in the project area is water scarcity. It is common for people to walk long distances to fetch drinking water, and in some instances they share water sources with livestock. This not only poses significant health risks but also means that women lose a lot of time walking to water sources instead of participating in gainful economic activities. Sometimes they find the rivers dry and have to dig in the sand to get to the water.
Although the project does not have experts in water harvesting at the local level, this know-how exists at Women in Development (WiD), a department within the Ministry of Tinkhundla Administration and Development. (n Swaziland, tinkhundla are small administrative subdivisions.) Two water specialists from WiD provided training and support to Vikizijula residents involved in the construction of the water harvesting tanks.
The community has a population of 406 people in 58 households. Thirty households participated in the effort to improve water availability for themselves and their neighbours.
“The difficult situation we were living under is my motivation for constructing the tank. When the opportunity of owning these water tanks came, I just would not let it go,” said Duduzile Tsabedze, a 58-year-old woman with five children who had to travel about four hours to the nearest water source before her tank was constructed.
Responsible stewardship
The project has also embarked on training women in the practical skills required to construct water harvesting tanks for their own households. This is a lifelong ability that some are now using to supplement their household income by building tanks for others.
Moreover, the tanks are fitted with overflow pipes that can divert water to backyard gardens. Many women in the project area anticipate growing extra vegetables that will improve the health and food security of their homesteads, as well as potentially generating income. “I want to start a vegetable garden so I can grow vegetables for sale,” said Gertrude Gadlela, a single parent of seven. “With the money I get I will buy a few basic commodities and raise more money to build another tank, because my aim is to have at least three of them.”

Through such activities, LUSIP-GEF facilitates responsible stewardship of the natural resource base. These efforts are intended to build resilience to climate change and improve food security, thereby benefitting the livelihoods of poor rural people.


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