A water drive that started as a modest plea on Facebook has grown into a nationwide campaign co-ordinated by ordinary people on social media.
“It has snowballed into something I never experienced in my life,” said Caroline van Saasen who started the Facebook page Water Shortage South Africa (WSSA).
Van Saasen said that while idly trawling Facebook during the Christmas holidays she became more and more upset by reports of people having absolutely no water after parts of the country struggled with drought.
She came up with a simple idea to ask people during one of the country’s peak travel periods to make space in their cars and take a few bottles of water with them to drop off at towns in need.
People across South Africa took up the challenge immediately.
Since then, the page has grown to thousands of members who either volunteer their home as a drop off point for an area, or help co-ordinate deliveries.
“At one of the drop-offs at Sannieshof a little boy walked over and downed a whole one litre bottle of water immediately. He had not had water for three days,” said Saassen, who refused to take the credit for starting the campaign.
“It is not me. There are 18 500 people behind this drive,” she said.
From supermarkets and trucking companies finding space among their deliveries and crates for the water, to private individuals using their own money for petrol, water is being driven around the country to quench the thirst of people in towns and villages running dry while El Niño takes hold.
“It is not my project. It was just my Facebook page,” said the working mother from Middelburg. “It is absolutely amazing.”
Volunteer Ray de Vries said, “The beautiful thing about it, is it’s organic. It’s pure heart, it’s pure soul.”
“It is civic action. Nobody is in charge – no government, no red tape, nobody is taking the credit. It is just a network of concerned South Africans.”
His own first delivery was “heart wrenching”, he said. He had delivered the water on New Year’s Eve to a home for 72 elderly people in Senekal in the Free State who had not had regular supplies for 28 days. They did not even have water to flush toilets at the home.
After he had dropped the water off, he travelled back to Gauteng for New Year’s Eve and the dinner conversation turned to where he had just been. “The next morning people got helluva excited and drove 500 litres to Senekal.”
The initiative has spurred others into action with LeadSA also running a water collection drive, Gift of the Givers securing huge donations of bottled water & Operation Hydrate being born to deliver water to the most drought stricken areas.
Operation Hydrate has bought the first 15 tankers of water that will be sent to the drought-stricken area of Senekal.
The NGO, together with corporate companies, is aiming to deliver more than 1,5 million litres of drinking water to areas which have been hardest hit.
A website has also been set up with contact numbers and ‘how it works’ instructions. People who want to donate mark bottled drinking water ‘DW’ and tank, tap or river water ‘TW’. The latter can be used for ablutions or animals.
A company has also since taken the initiative one step further by donating and erecting a number of steel dams to store the water when it is delivered.