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Mpumalanga’s Dixie gets first ever clean running water from taps thanks to Dis-Chem

The Dis-Chem Foundation has unveiled an innovation that has brought fresh, clean running water to a poor rural community in Mpumalanga. The plight of Dixie village required immediate response. The Dis-Chem Foundation’s Sherry Saltzman explains the predicament: “For decades, approximately 175 families living in the remote village of Dixie had no running water in their village – not even one tap and they faced a daily struggle to find clean water that is hygienic and safe to use and drink.”

As if the grind of poverty was not enough, community members regularly walked long distances with buckets, pushed wheelbarrows with containers or were forced to hire bakkies with containers to travel even further in search of water. This was exacerbated by the level 5 Covid-19 lockdown which saw residents unable to move.

Funds for the project were committed by the Dis-Chem Foundation which commissioned specialist NGO Innovation Africa to install the water system based on its solid track record in building sustainable water and energy systems in rural communities across Africa.

The innovative system sees a new water source in Dixie which is a solar-powered and gravity-fed system that pumps water from boreholes into 15 taps strategically located across the village. The residents now have convenient access to clean, fresh water.

“This is not something one would imagine in South Africa: clean water is something most people take for granted, when we’re thirsty we turn on a tap or open a bottle of water. When we became aware of the lack of easy access to water in Dixie, we realised that the Dis-Chem Foundation had a role to play in changing the status quo and in doing so, literally changing the lives of the Dixie community,” says Saltzman.

As rural areas often lack plumbing systems and sanitation infrastructure, residents rely on water from rivers, lakes or shallow wells, which can be contaminated, leading to the spread of deadly diseases, including cholera and diarrhoea. Diarrhoea remains a leading killer of young children, a disease linked to inadequate water, sanitation, and hygiene. Many children regularly miss school because they are too ill to attend, compounding levels of inequality in already disadvantaged communities.

A community activity

Key to the project’s implementation was the inclusion of the Dixie community which worked in partnership with Innovation Africa. The Mnisi tribal authority was closely involved in each step, with a water committee established, and ten Dixie community members employed on the project and upskilled on such water projects for the future.

Innovation Africa was chiefly responsible for the implementation, which was done is phases once advanced technology was employed to find water among the dolerite dykes. Thereafter, technical teams drilled to the aquifer to reach clean water and create boreholes. A structure was built, a solar pump installed, and a 10,000-litre water tank was fitted with solar panels. The community workers dug trenches for the piping and the Dixie community were trained on how to use the water system and minimise waste.

While the system was installed at the same time as South Africa went into hard lockdown, it was only officially unveiled during a recent initiative which saw Dis-Chem partner with Sabi Sand to rollout Covid-19 vaccines to the reserve’s staff and surrounding communities in a move designed to create a safe Covid-19 bubble which will be safe for the return of international travellers.

“We knew the installation of the water system had made a tangible difference to this community, but the opportunity to hear first-hand from the residents about how their quality of life has changed was heart-warming. As a company, Dis-Chem prioritises health and wellbeing, and our involvement in this very worthy initiative via the Dis-Chem Foundation is most gratifying,” Saltzman concludes.

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