Assessment of the performance of small-scale water infrastructure (SWI) for multiple uses in Nebo Plateau, Sekhukhune District, South Africa.
South Africa is ranked the 30th driest country in the world and water is regarded as a scarce resource in the country. Limited availability of good quality water has resulted in urban areas receiving more water at the expense of rural areas. This is due to the fact that urban areas have a more reliable and well-maintained water infrastructure, while rural communities use unreliable and dysfunctional small-scale water infrastructure (SWI). Enhancing the performance of SWI (which are technical hardware used by rural communities to supply water for their day-to-day activities such as domestic, irrigation and rural development) used by the rural communities can enhance their rural livelihoods. The SWIs are designed and operated either as single use systems (SUS) that cater for only one water-use or multiple water systems (MUS) that cater for more than one water-use. These SWI are usually dysfunctional due to a number of reasons. Investment into SWI development, operation and maintenance (O&M), rehabilitation and modernization is limited by the lack of knowledge of the types of SWI in a given area and their functional status. This study sought to assess the performance of SWI in Nebo Plateau, Limpopo Province, South Africa by (a) identifying their types, distribution, ownership, water-use and status using a survey tool administered to the rural communities, (b) assessing their condition using modified technical and risk of failure evaluation tool, (c) investigating their causes of failure using a qualitative research approach and network analysis, and then (d) propose best management practices (BMPs) that are specific to the study area. The study found 202 SWI, which comprised of the following: unequipped boreholes (59%), equipped boreholes (hand pumps (10%), electric-driven pumps (6%), diesel-driven pumps (1%) and windmills (4%)) and small reservoirs (11%). The overall water uses were 65% SUS, 22% MUS and 13% other. The government owned 54% of the SWI, communities owned 22%, private sector owned 11%, and schools owned 2%. The government was responsible for the maintenance of 49% of the SWI. It was found that 71% of the identified SWI were nonfunctional It was found that windmills had minor defects and met rural community needs above satisfactory level. On the other hand, small reservoirs and hand pumps required major maintenance and benefited the rural communities below the minimum level. The major causes of failure were found to be lack of proper operation and maintenance (O & M), lack of O & M strategies, inadequate funds, no monitoring strategies, lack of technical skills at municipality and community level, and lack of strong leadership from the policy regulating institutions, Water Service Authority, water service provider and rural communities. It was proposed that for improved water supply to the rural communities of Nebo Plateau, there was a need to decentralize the current District municipality water service providers (WSP), establish Village Water Committees (VWC) in the rural communities, link policy with technology used, consider the effects of environment on technology, ensure availability of spare parts locally, provide technical training for both WSP and rural communities, and allocate funds for operation and management of the SWI. The study concludes that there are different SWI used by the rural communities in the study area and operated as SUS and MUS. The rural communities used water mainly for domestic and irrigation of back yard gardens. Water from small reservoirs was mainly used for livestock watering. The government owned most of the SWI and were also responsible for their maintenance. Most SWI assessed during this study were non-functional thus depriving rural communities of improved standards of living. The factors that caused the poor performance of SWI were interdependent and resulted mainly from the lack of strong institutional capabilities. The proposed BMPs were suitable for the rural communities of Nebo Plateau. It is, therefore, recommended that stakeholders involved in SWI management use the information on the status of SWI presented in this document to address areas with poor performing SWI and adopt or apply the proposed BMPs to improve their performance.