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South Africa sets up water-storing football fields to combat droughts

Boshoek Primary School in South Africa installed water-storing football fields which could hold 17 million liters of clean, filtered water per year in an effort to combat drought.

Sibusiso Mohlapi, a Maths and Science teacher at the primary school in the North West province of South Africa stated that he noticed a difference since the fields were installed in 2015. He said that classroom attendance has increased since then as clean water has become more accessible. Students used to stay home for being sick due to diarrhea, headaches and stomach aches due to the water issues the country experienced in the past.

“This was a lesson to me that water and education are linked,” said Mohlapi.

“We are struggling in South Africa with clean water.”

South Africa is one of the victims that have been hit by climate change and poor governance. Last year, a drought triggered warning for taps to run dry in the city of Cape Town.

The World Wide Fund for Nature South Africa (WWF) predicts that 14 million residents do not have access to decent sanitation. As a consequence, the community surrounding the primary school has gotten used to water cuts.

“We mainly access our water through boreholes,” said Mohlapi. However, during times with minimal rainfall, aquifers are not as full which means that at times, boreholes could even run dry.

He added, “Before this field was just an empty space. Imagine if a school didn’t have water. Would we even have an education? Definitely not.”

According to the Federation for a Sustainable Environment, around 56 per cent of the existing sewage filtering systems in South Africa have been deemed “poor” or in a “critical state”.

Dutch engineers who visited the country during the FIFA World Cup in 2010 noticed the water scarcity and the country’s love for football. This led them to set up the GreenSource initiative, which was funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Since then, around nine water-storing football fields have been set up.

The fields could clean up and store nearly 2,000 liters per hour and up to 17 million liters of rainwater annually.

A GreenSource coordinator in South Africa, Paige Albyn, stated, “Pathogens, or harmful organisms, are removed from the water using a membrane which essentially sieves out harmful particles in the water.”

“New innovations are desperately needed in South Africa if we are to cater to the needs of the country’s nearly 60 million population.”

“The water is tested before the fields are installed. We don’t work in areas where clean drinking water is already accessible,” she added.

The country’s Department of Water and Sanitation has set out plans to appoint an independent regulator to ensure improved water management.

Albyn said that solar-powered filtration devices are an option as well.

Mohlapi said, “I use the field and the clean water as a classroom. I teach them about science, technology and nature in a way that is real to them. Plus, the field keeps them active. Active bodies, active minds.”

“Water scarcity is a human rights issue that needs to be addressed globally. Let’s not wait to make sure every student can access their right to clean drinking water,” said Albyn.