Water Is Life’: Working with Communities to Develop Local Knowledge for Action to Address Water Shortage

We present participatory action research (PAR) inclusive of Photovoice from rural South Africa as part of a broader programme of health policy and systems research entitled ‘Verbal Autopsy with Participatory Action Research (VAPAR).

We re-engaged 8 participants representing community actors, service users and providers in a rural village from earlier work in 2013 and 2015. Lack of clean, safe water was raised as an issue that participants considered important and relevant, and a further 8 women of reproductive age were recruited by the original participants to explore the topic as a collective. We then held a series of village-based workshops employing deliberative techniques to understand problems and causes, identify relevant actors, and develop action plans. Participants also used photography to document local issues around lack of water in rural villages.

The effects of lack of water are profound and multisectoral action is necessary to address the issue. Participants developed integrated community health systems action plans inclusive of multi-sectoral partnerships and monitoring mechanisms. PAR inclusive of Photovoice developed compelling evidence on the lived experience of lack of clean, safe water in rural communities. The next step is to engage stakeholders to encourage visibility and action in health systems.

Submitted by:
Denny Mabetha

Resorting to unregulated water sources

A man fetches water at the river for household use. This picture illustrates the circumstances that people face every day. It is a situation that leaves people with little choice but to fetch water in places where water is not safe, use it and bear the consequences.

Photographer: Wilson Mhlongo / VAPAR learning platform

Come earlier or go home without water

A woman fetching water in the early hours of the day. This picture illustrates how villagers wake up early every day to queue for water due to limited water collection points. Sometimes they are forced to go home with empty containers if they do not arrive early enough.

Photographer: Elizabeth Chongo / VAPAR learning platform

Laundry by the river

The photo shows women doing laundry at the local river, there is no running water near their houses which forces them to carry out this labour intensive activity. The situation affects then negatively, learners are sometimes forced to skip classes because of lack of clean uniform.

Photographer: Wilson Mhlongo / VAPAR learning platform

Taps but no water

A tap installed for some time but without running water. This picture illustrates what according to participants is corruption linked to politics. There are taps installed within some households and village streets but these are unable to supply water because the money allocated for them is misused.

Photographer: Jabulani Mnisi / VAPAR learning platform

Money to the rich while the poor remain poor

A truck that supplies villagers with water, although this appear to relieve the water problem, people believe that rich politicians and influential people take advantage of the situation by selling water to the poor at expensive rates
Photographer: Aubrey Nkuna / VAPAR learning platform