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 was achieved through a participatory and creative project called Bucket Loads of Health (BLH) which responded to challenges and health risks linked to water saving and water reuse. The project brought 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 became urgent priorities in recent years 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 were 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 experimented with various water saving methods, including harvesting rainwater and recycling grey water for household use. This urgent response to the worsening drought 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 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 knowledge exchange workshops between the community participants and the water microbiologists 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 provided a unique opportunity for researchers and marginalized community members to share diverse perspectives and understanding about the relationship between water and health.
The knowledge and information generated through the BLH project was shared with community members, researchers, and residents of other communities in many different ways such as exhibitions in Stellenbosch and Delft, Cape Town, a community mobilisation event, and various presentations and conferences. These methods helped to make the project accessible to many other audiences including academic scientists and other community engagement practitioners. Short films were created during the project, each shedding light on an important challenge or issue. These are all available online, to aid raising further awareness.
It has been an amazing experience working with Prof Khan and her team, the Community Inspirers of Enkanini, and the Delft Water Clan, Cape Town on Bucket Loads of Health during the course of 2018. Through the Bucket Loads of Health project, Wellcome gave us an invaluable opportunity to raise water consciousness in times of water scarcity, share different perspectives of what it means to live under severe water restrictions, and to make science more accessible and relevant to communities where basic scientific research is being done.