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Climate action: water stressed Swazi rural communities rehabilitate wetlands to alleviate water challenges

Rural residents in the three chiefdoms patched on the Lubombo Plateau, in the Eastern part of Eswatini, have rolled up their sleeves to protect their water sources by rehabilitating wetlands. The objective is to improve water access for thousands of rural households.

During adverse winter conditions, Maphungwane, Tikhuba and Lukhetseni’s rural women and youth hold vigils and queue or travel long distances to fetch water from steep gorges.

Some residents share open unsafe water sources with livestock, exposing their families to water borne diseases.

COSPE, an Italian non-profit organisation, helped the communities with resilience and adaptation strategies. It assisted the residents by rehabilitating water sources and catchment areas that exist in their communities.

Richard Masimula, COSPE’s Local Adaption Coordinator, explained the geological disadvantage of the Lubombo Plateau communities. He said the escarpment does not have plenty of ground water because of a huge bedrock underneath the plateau which is difficult to drill through it. “According to experts, the bulk of the water under the plateau’s bedrock sip through the Lubombo Plateau and go to Mozambique.

“The only available water resources for these communities on the plateau is the water above the bedrock, which is surface water for communities located on the plateau,” explained Masimula.

He stated that generally, there is lack of water access in many rural areas in Eswatini, and according to government regulations, a citizen must not walk over 200 metres to get water. Masimula said if residents travel more than the stipulated regulation, those residents have no water access, and it means water is nightmare for them.

In helping the communities on climate change resilience and adaptation strategies, COSPE provided material to fence-off wetlands who were at the verge of extinction owing to livestock trampling. Other community water sources like perennial water springs which have existed for generations are rehabilitated to have safe drinking water.

Busisiwe Mutinta (55), a resident of Tikhuba is grateful to COSPE for assisting them in rehabilitating one of the community’s oldest Ngwengu water spring.

The Lukhetseni water blues: the resident is fetching water from an unprotected source, they hope COSPE will assist them to protect the water source to benefit scores of households
The Lukhetseni water blues: the resident is fetching water from an unprotected source, they hope COSPE will assist them to protect the water source to benefit scores of households

“This spring is one of the oldest springs in the area. Before its rehabilitation, we would spend nights queuing with our jerry cans and at times as women we would come to blows in the event others try to play smart by jumping the queue,” said Mutinta.

However, she said the problem with the water source is in a deep bushy gorge, elderly women and girls run the risks of being rape. And the womens aging bodies struggle to climb the steep slopes carrying the 20 litre jerry cans on their heads.

Mutinta’words were echoed by Joseph Khoza (62), a fellow resident, who explained that they approached COSPE for assistance because of the dire water situation in the three chiefdoms.

“Water is a serious issue in this part of the world. I recall, during the 2015/2016 EL Nino drought, we experienced extreme hardship here at Tikhuba. Our water sources ran dry, and livestock died. We had one perennial spring which we ended up sharing the water with Lukhetseni chiefdom. Their livestock and ours shared that water source,” recalled Khoza.

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He continued to say COSPE used the bottom-up approach in mitigating the environmental challenges facing their communities. “COSPE requested us to propose possible solutions we thought could help,” said Khoza. “But because wetland is capable of preserving large volumes of water. We asked COSPE to assist us with protecting the wetlands and the rehabilitation of our natural water springs,” explained Khoza.

“The organisation has helped us. We used to have unnecessary conflicts, our women would literally fight over water,” he said.

KuDvumane, another section of Maphungwane’s chiefdom, through COSPE had its wetland protected and resuscitated. It currently supplies water to hundreds of households. There is a pipe from the protected wetland which connects to the mounted water tank below and the erected standpipe receive water from the tank.

According to chairman of KuDvumane Water Scheme, Mandla Mamba (36), the wetland has brought life back to the community. Residents now enjoy potable water from their natural resource, and they never thought it would be an important source of water at some point.

KuDvumako, Maphungwane: The two residents open a protected water source, a flourishing wetland below
KuDvumako, Maphungwane: The two residents open a protected water source, a flourishing wetland below

“This wetland is our miracle as community,” observed Mamba. “And the rapid expansion of this wetland is surprising. The wetland grass has covered much if the place we thought it was dry.

“We used to travel 5 kilometres and travel at night to fetch water from the mountains over there. But this development has brought water closer. However, we still need to bring it closer to our homesteads as it is still far for some residents,” said Mamba.

Although COSPE has worked successfully with some communities to be resilient to water scarcity, there still remain majority others who have not received help from the organisation. They still however hope to be the next beneficiaries. Community groups still approach COSPE to help them rehabilitate their wetlands and water springs.

Masimula explained that concerning climate change, COSPE work with the communities through the local community adaptation plan. The communities identify their issues that need to be addressed.

Below the Dvumako residents fect water from the flourishing wetland
Dvumako residents fect water from the flourishing wetland

“Once they identify them, they propose tailor made solutions. COSPE then offer support according to the solutions they have proposed. For example, the wetland protection water points rehabilitation and indigenous seeds programmes, it’s what the communities proposed as adaptation strategies to climate change,” said Masimula.

He acknowledged the need to help the communities who still want to have their water points rehabilitated and wetlands protected.

“Water is expensive! On the other hand, we have financial limitations. We’ve made assessments on the water points at Tikhuba and other chiefdoms, we discovered too many water sources. So, it requires a lot of money. What we are doing, going forward, we are writing proposals to try and look for funds to pursue the water development agenda for these communities. We are also engaging government institutions to assist the communities,” said Masimula.

Eswatini Environmental Authority Communications Officer, Belusile Mhlanga, said in the last five years, the Eswatini Environment Fund has financed 44 community projects for the rehabilitation and protection of wetlands, a project worth over USD268,810.

She said the rehabilitation efforts have contributed immensely to the improvement of livelihoods because wetlands provide wetlands grass such, the Cyperus latifolius and the Cyperus articulates that are used in the handcraft craft industry which is dominated by Swazi women.

Phathizwe Zulu, a Freelance journalist in Eswatini, an Oxpeckers fellow. Email:

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