Drakensberg to Pietermaritzburg
A few days ago, we drank from the crystal-clear streams of the Drakensberg's Highmoor Reserve, untouched by civilisation. We finished our adventure on day four with a short canoe trip to the Natal Canoe Club base, paddling down a pollution-infested Dusi River. This grim comparison is the journey of water in KZN.
Our final day began with a trip to Henley Dam, set in the valley of Edendale outside Pietermaritzburg.
Municipal manager of the eThekwini climate protection branch, Sean O'Donogue is investigating the long-term effects of climate change and how to mitigate those effects by using natural infrastructure like wetlands.
"It costs so much for us to treat the polluted water which flows into Henley Dam. Working wetlands would do that job for free. A lot of the poorer communities also rely on these ecosystems, which is why preserving and restoring them is so important."
We left Henley and snaked our way through the foothills, catching glimpses of the Dusi River as we made our way south on foot through the local community.
Around us were countless examples of small, well-managed sanitation systems that are looked after locally, showing that expensive engineering schemes are not always the best solution to water and sanitation issues. Alternative strategies need to be investigated.
We crossed a trickling section of the river and again met up with members of the hugely inspirational Dusi uMgeni Conservation Trust (DUCT). Here in the community of Ashdown, DUCT is working with local government and residents, especially children, to clean up litter and report sewage leaks.
“At least 12 sewage leaks are reported each day in Pietermaritzburg, all spilling into the river.”
"This sewage infested river feeds Inanda Dam, which provides Durban with its drinking water," says DUCT's Richard Clacey. "At least 12 sewage leaks are reported each day in Pietermaritzburg, all spilling into the river."
Despite the mammoth task ahead, Clacey remains confident that they can reduce E. coli levels in the river significantly in coming years. There are 7,000 children in Ashdown under the age of 24, and about 6,000 are out of school or jobless. They are brought into the DUCT programme to become 'eco-champions'.
Our journey came to a close further downstream of the Dusi, where green slime had enveloped the water's surface. Officials were investigating the possibility that a local factory had dumped their chemical waste in the river.
We ended our epic, educational and fun journey of water by paddling in teams downstream to the nearby Natal Canoe Club, mostly succeeding in our efforts to avoid contact with the water.
For the walkers who participated, the last four days had been a revelation and an opportunity to form new friendships and networks. Importantly, the Journey of Water also inspired deep reflection.
Rapper and recording artist, ProVerb, admitted that before this journey, he hadn't given much thought to water's scarcity.
"When we get back to our respective cities, will we continue the same wasteful habits? I hope not. Will we open the tap and think about water's journey? I think so. This has been such an eye-opener, and I challenge everyone to carry this message forward. The journey of water should not finish just because we've finished the walk."
In her role as Miss Earth South Africa, Ilze Saunders engages with over 80 schools, educating learners about a range of environmental issues.
"I plan to take the journey of water into these schools, and impart the lessons I've learnt," she promised.
Sanlam's head of corporate affairs, Francois Adriaan gained a deeper understanding of the inter-connectedness between water and all facets of life.
“What we do to the earth, we do to ourselves. The possibility of living a good life is tied up in making every drop and every action count.”
"What we do to the earth, we do to ourselves. The possibility of living a good life is tied up in making every drop and every action count. I am amazed at the resilience of the human spirit in the face of adversity, but even more humbled by the resilience of nature when given the space to heal."
As for this writer? I gained a true appreciation for the nameless, faceless individuals who toil unnoticed and often unacknowledged by society at large, working to salvage a clean water supply for South Africa.
We think that fresh water is an everlasting, abundant resource; that every time we turn on the tap it will flow, just like it always has, into our lives.