Bucket Loads of Health
Lead: Dr Gill Black
Project manager: Jess Drewett
In December 2017, SLF won a Wellcome Public Engagement award, enabling us to continue engaging communities in public health and health science research throughout 2018. This will be achieved through a participatory and creative project called Bucket Loads of Health (BLH) which responds to the challenges and health risks linked to water saving and water reuse. The project brings a team of water microbiologists at Stellenbosch University together with participants from two communities in the Western Cape (WC) that vary significantly in water accessibility.
Saving and recycling water have recently become urgent priorities for people living in the Western Cape province of South Africa, which was officially declared a drought disaster zone in May 2017. High level water restrictions have been implemented across the entire province, with the City of Cape Town (CoCT) and Stellenbosch being amongst the most severely affected areas. In attempts to comply with the heavy demands of water restrictions, residents are experimenting with various water saving methods, including harvesting rainwater and recycling grey water for household use. This urgent response to the worsening drought has introduced a serious public health concern, as the storage and reuse of both grey and rain water are known to carry numerous, significant health risks.
Professor Wesaal Khan and her microbiology team at Stellenbosch University (SUN) have been researching rainwater in the Western Cape since 2012. As part of this research, they have installed multiple rainwater collection tanks in the informal settlement of Enkanini (Stellenbosch municipality). By experimenting with a variety of solar pasteurization systems, the SUN team have been working to understand how levels of pathogenic micro-organisms – that contaminate harvested rainwater and make it unsafe for drinking – can be reduced.
The BLH project has brought Professor Khan and her team together with residents of the Enkanini settlement, and members of the community of Delft in Cape Town. A series of interactive workshops between the community participants and the water scientists have enabled creative outputs to be shared, and fostered dialogue about the health risks associated with using alternative water sources – especially the storage and recycling of rainwater and grey water. These workshops also provided an opportunity for the scientific team to explain their microbiology research to a public audience, and inspire collective thinking about novel and practical measures to increase the safety of water recycling efforts that are appropriate for the different settings.
The knowledge and information that is generated through the BLH project will be shared with members of other communities in the CoCT and Stellenbosch municipalities. It will be relevant and accessible to many other audiences including academic scientists and other community engagement practitioners. The outputs and learning from the project will also be made available to representatives of the WC government. Policy makers from both participating municipalities will be provided with new types of information that could assist them in developing improved guidelines underlining the health-related aspects of water saving and reuse in different contexts.
We look forward to working with Prof Khan and her team, and residents of Enkanini, and Delft, Cape Town on Bucket Loads of Health this year. We welcome the opportunity that Wellcome has given us to raise water consciousness in times of water scarcity, and to make science more accessible and relevant to communities where basic scientific research is being done.
Click here to read more about the methodological approach to Bucket Loads of Health
New approaches to saving water by CoCT residents