Does enhanced water availability make a difference to poor households' livelihoods? The case of Luvuvhu watershed, South Africa

The role of the hydrological cycle in the livelihoods of rural communities is often perceived as important, but clear evidence of this is rarely offered. Consideration of this issue tends to focus on the use of water from rivers, boreholes or storage (blue water), and neglects the role of evaporation (green water), which is often critical for agriculture and rural livelihoods. The goods and services provided by the evaporation and transpiration components of the hydrological cycle have been assessed by the Catchment Management and Poverty Alleviation (CAMP) programme, which the Department for International Development (DFID) is supporting in South Africa, the United Republic of Tanzania and Grenada, under the direction of a stakeholder group comprising forest, water and poverty interests.

The CAMP South African project focuses on Luvuvhu catchment in Limpopo province, which drains into the Limpopo river at the border with Zimbabwe and Mozambique. This catchment illustrates the acute problems that water and land-use management face as a result of human-induced changes in vegetation coverage: indigenous species are being replaced by exotic ones in order to increase the area of commercial forestry. Alien tree species are therefore invading an area that is water-short and affected by a high prevalence of poverty.

The project has investigated how different scenarios of forest cover affect the hydrological regime and water availability, which in turn affect economic production and people’s livelihoods. The linkage between water availability and livelihoods is being assessed through a survey of several communities. Changes in river flow and evaporation caused by changing land cover are assessed by land-use-sensitive hydrological models configured for use in the Luvuvhu. A framework has been devised for understanding the linkages between water flows and the economic and livelihood values of water.

So far, the analysis has not demonstrated any significant association between income-poverty and greater access to water, through either receiving reticulated supply or being in a higher rainfall area. The available data imply that as long as the statutory provision of 25 litres/capita/day is met, additional water provision does not greatly increase livelihood benefits. Evidence also suggests that although there may be food security gains from increased water provision (e.g., for irrigating kitchen gardens), the poorest in society are less likely to benefit from these; wealthy households with greater access to home-based reticulated supplies benefit most.

Adapted from I.R. Calder. 2006. “Watershed management: can we incorporate more evidence-based policies?” In B. Swallow, N. Okono, M. Achouri and L. Tennyson, eds. Preparing for the next generation of watershed management programmes and projects. Proceedings of the African Workshop. Nairobi, 8 to 10 October 2003. Watershed Management and Sustainable Mountain Development Working Paper No. 8. Rome, FAO, FORC Department.

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last updated:  Tuesday, March 27, 2007