South Africa - Water security and vulnerability: perceptions and practices

South Africa - Water security and vulnerability: perceptions and practices

TitleSouth Africa - Water security and vulnerability: perceptions and practices
Publication TypeStudy report
Year of PublicationSubmitted
AuthorsMaluleke N
Publication Languageeng

This report analyses the concept of vulnerability in relation to water security for people's livelihoods. Particularly, it aims to find out how intermediate level stakeholders perceive vulnerability, and how they try to address this specifically in their various water and livelihoods programmes. It concludes that this specific focus on the most vulnerable households is lacking in most programmes. These typically do have a poverty alleviation focus, but do not differentiate between different types of households and their needs.

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The broad objective of this paper is to highlight the complexities of poverty and how understanding vulnerabilities in relation to rural livelihoods can enable water service provision to respond to the needs of the poorest households in communities. This is based upon work carried out in ward 16 of the Bushbuckridge Local Municipality, in the context of participatory assessment and planning with community based structures, local government and a number of government department officials, and the subsequent reflection on what took place there, and its implication.

The report reflects on the challenges of adopting water services delivery approaches based on the livelihoods realities of poor people. In doing so, this paper explores the complexities and practicalities of understanding rural livelihoods systems from a water perspective. Special attention is given to the various ways in which local service providers perceive and conceptualize poverty (and vulnerability), and how their perceptions informs their implementation of services and their selection processes for identifying the poorest households. The understanding (based on ongoing work with stakeholders) is that while there are planning frameworks which encourage an integrated and poverty reduction focused approach to service delivery, in practice this is still a challenging task to achieve, partly due to the complex realities of identifying and reaching the poorest and partly due to the fragmented nature of service delivery processes in most municipal areas in South Africa. The importance of addressing governance issues if we are to achieve water service provision that makes a real contribution to poverty eradication is emphasized.

Some of the key issues to be considered in any attempt to plan services that are based on the livelihoods realities of poor people are outlined in conclusion. Many of these relate to the issue of institutional development and capacity building and include:

• Adopting a learning approach and providing practical tools for unpacking the complex linkages between water and poverty, and for understanding the role of water services in addressing poverty and reducing vulnerabilities.

• A multidisciplinary approach to poverty eradication where water services is recognized as one of the key contribution to poverty alleviation.

• Poverty in rural areas is a result of both physical deprivation and socioeconomic processes and structures; therefore understanding and action must focus on some of the historical, social, economic and political factors leading to vulnerabilities and poverty.