Assessment of the water poverty index at meso-catchment scale in the Thukela Basin.
Dlamini, Dennis Jabulani Mduduzi.
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The connection between water and human wellbeing is increasingly causing concern about the implications of water scarcity on poverty. The primary fear is that water scarcity may not only worsen poverty, but may also undermine efforts to alleviate poverty and food insecurity. A review of literature revealed that the relationship between water scarcity and poverty is a complex one, with water scarcity being both a cause and consequence of poverty. Furthermore, water scarcity is multidimensional, which makes it difficult to define, while it can also vary considerably, both temporally and spatially. Finally, the relationship between water scarcity and poverty is a difficult one to quantify. Within the context of water scarcity, indicators are viewed by many development analysts as appropriate tools for informing and orienting policy-making, for comparing situations and for measuring performance. However, simplistic traditional indicators cannot capture the complexity of the water-poverty link; hence a proliferation of more sophisticated indicators and indices since the early 1990s. The Water Poverty Index (WPI), one of these new indices, assesses water scarcity holistically. Water poverty derives from the conceptualisation of this index which relates dimensions of poverty to access to water for domestic and productive use. However, the WPI has not been applied extensively at meso-catchment scale, the scale at which water resources managers operate. In South Africa, the Thukela Catchment -in the province of KwaZulu-Natal presents a unique opportunity to assess the WPI at this scale. The Thukela is a diverse catchment with respect to physiography, climate and (by extension) natural vegetation, land use, demography, culture and economy. While parts of the catchment are suitable for intensive agricultural production and others are thriving economic centres, a large percentage of the population in the catchment lives in poverty in high risk ecosystems, with their vulnerability exacerbated by policies of the erstwhile apartheid government. Many rural communities, a high percentage of which occupy these naturally harsh areas, have low skills levels, with a high proportion of unemployed people, low or no income and low services delivery. Infrastructural development, which relates to municipal service delivery, is often made prohibitively expensive by the rugged terrain in which many people live. As in other catchments in South Africa, the Thukela is affected by policies and initiatives aimed at accomplishing the objectives of post-1994 legislation such as the South Africa Constitution and the National Water Act. The potential of the WPI to assess the impacts of these initiatives on human wellbeing and to inform decision .making in the Thukela catchment was investigated. An analysis of a 46 year long series of monthly summations of daily values of streamflows output by the ACRU agrohydrological simulation model has shown that the Thukela, in its entirety , is a water-rich catchment. The reliability of the streamflows, which has implications for communities who collect water directly from 1 streams, is high along main channels but can be considerably less along low order tributaries of the main streams. The flow reliability along the small tributaries is less in winter than in summer. A high percentage of the catchment's population, in addition to being poor and not having access to municipal services, live near, and rely on, the small tributaries for their water supplies. Admittedly, this analysis addresses only one dimension of water poverty, viz. physical water shortage. Nevertheless, the study revealed that despite the Thukela's being a water-rich catchment, many communities are still water stressed. A more holistic characterisation of the water scarcity situation in the Thukela catchment was achieved using the WPI. A review of possible information sources for computing the WPI in South Africa found that many monitoring programmes, information systems and databases are either in existence and are active, or being restructured, or are under different stages of development. If and when they are all fully functional , they should be able to support national assessments of the WPI at meso-scale without the need to collect additional information. A combination of information from some of the active databases and secondary data from other local studies was used to compute the WPI in the Thukela catchment. The assessment uncovered the following: • There is an apparent association between water poverty and socio-economic disadvantage in the Thukela catchment. • There was an improvement in the water poverty situation in most parts of the Thukela catchment between 1996 and 2001, although the degree of improvement varied from subcatchment to subcatchment. Climate change, if it manifests itself by higher temperatures and reduced rainfall, will most likely worsen water poverty throughout the Thukela catchment, with the subcatchments in which many of the poor communities are located being more likely to experience the most severe impacts as the coping capacities of those communities are already strained under current climatic conditions. The findings of this study illustrate the potential of WPI as a tool for informing decision making and policy evaluation at the meso-catchment scale at which many water-related decisions are made.
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