Wash day in Labala

Solar water security for Bushmen

In parched remote north-western Botswana the Bushman people are starting to feel the benefit of a clean, reliable water supply thanks to solar technology.

There are few more isolated communities than the Bushman people of southern Africa. Originally hunter-gatherers, they are marginalised politically and geographically, and their lives are preoccupied with survival.

Under daily pressure brought about by poverty and disease the Bushmen need fresh water not just for drinking, but also to provide sanitation, irrigation and livestock watering. Today, a solar-powered borehole project funded by the Redbush Tea Company is bringing much-needed water security to the people of the village of Labala whose quality of life is showing a dramatic improvement.

1 Wash day in Labala. A five-panel solar array is sufficient to power pumping water up from the 68m-deep borehole. The tank's capacity is 2,500l, which is enough to meet the requirements of the 70-80 villagers and their livestock. The tank takes around three hours to fill and the system works efficiently even when there is no direct sunlight.

2 Villagers carry water from the borehole down a sand track 250m to Labala either by hand or loaded on donkeys. Previously, fetching fresh water involved a trek of several kilometres in temperatures exceeding 40°C.

3 Water is a key factor in the lives of the Bushmen in their fight against diseases such as TB and HIV/AIDS, and yet the waterholes are under threat due to a burgeoning black market in second-hand solar panels. Thieves steal them to charge their mobile phones and dead car batteries.

4 Elephants can smell boreholes from great distances and will destroy the tanks to get fresh water. Walls constructed out of sandbags and rocks piled between parallel chicken-wire fences provide a deterrent to elephants, but are not always successful against panel theft by humans.

5 Technology is simple and reliable. The key to the success of boreholes like Labala is renewable energy and low-maintenance components.

6 From start to finish a borehole like the one at Labala can be put in place for as little as US$20,000 making an immeasurable difference to the quality of life, sometimes being the difference between life and death.

7 Within the boundary of the elephant wall the villagers are starting to grow the fruit and fresh vegetables that are crucial to increasing their resistance to TB.

To find out more about Redbush Tea's work with the Bushmen visit www.redbushtea.com 

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