By Thandiwe Faith Kubere

MASERU – The Orange Senqu River Commission (ORASECOM) through the Ministry of Natural Resources undertook a training pilot program aimed at educating citizens, particularly primary students, the importance of keeping water sources clean, as well as processes engaged in testing water quality and quantity. 

The Ministry and ORASECOM held this momentous activity on September 14th at Mohokare Primary school, which is along the Mohokare catchment at Hasetho village, Maseru. From the Ministry of Natural Resources, Department of Water Affairs, Nthati Toae explained the purpose of piloting this project was to educate, equip students with relevant skills and to train them on simple ways of monitoring the health of rivers using aquatic macro-invertebrates as indicators.  

Aquatic macro-invertebrates are insects which include but are not limited to; snails, worms, crabs, dragonflies, beetles and clams that spend at least part of their lives in water. They play a vital role in freshwater ecosystems by recycling nutrients as well as providing food to higher trophic levels. These invertebrates are visible to the naked eye and are ever-present to freshwater ecosystems around the world. They are present in both lotic and lentic ecosystems, often living among the rocks, sand, plants and sediment. She highlighted these animals differ in terms of sensitivity, therefore helping in monitoring the quality and quantity of the water. Some are extremely sensitive such that they die should there be a slight change in water.

She declared the project came about after realizing that as a ministry, they could not reach and monitor all the river basins present in the country as well as to know their value in terms of quality and quantity as per the Ministry’s mandate. Therefore, the Ministry deemed it essential to pilot this project which will continue for six months, in which case, the department of water affairs will monitor the selected schools and get monthly data from them. 

Given the success of the pilot program, the two ministries; Ministry of Natural Resources and the Ministry of Education and Training, will enter into a memorandum of understanding for this program to be part of primary schools curriculum in order to attain greater coverage. “This is also so that children grow up knowing the importance of water as well as the adverse results of polluting the water sources and how that harms aquatic life. Learners will be able to use insects as indicators because they have been taught which ones are found in clean water, as well as those found in contaminated water. The success of this program means we will have an educated society which reserves water and keeps it in a good state”, said Toae.

This programme was brought up to ensure that river basins are kept clean and in good condition throughout the four countries partnering for the ORASECOM and share water sources, being Lesotho, South Africa, Botswana and Namibia, as per Lesotho’s obligation and signed memorandum since it is where the basin begins. The project is aimed at engaging Basotho nationals, through local communities to know their water resource.

The training and monitoring on citizen science has went around a couple of schools and aims to go around different primary schools along the Mohokare River so that learners do not encounter the challenge of reaching rivers. “The intention was to go around ten primary schools. In Butha Buthe, the Ministry of Education and Training approved of three primary schools which are Marakabei, Phoku and Paramente. In Leribe, we got St. Luke and Ipopeng. In Berea, we had to reduce the number and took on one school which is Makebe. In Maseru we got Mohokare and Little Darling. And in Mafeteng, where the river now crosses to another country, we got Bolikela AME and Bolikela LEC. 

ORASECOM Communications Specialist Boniface Mabeo, declared ORASECOM embarked on this journey because the basin starts in Lesotho. “We found it very important to embark on this project to ensure that the water is pristine because Lesotho is known for very clean and healthy rivers. But over the years because of our project, which is called the Joint Basin Survey (JBS), we have seen the water quality declining and that is why we are part of this project; to educate Basotho, especially the little ones. This is because when we teach them young, we are teaching for the present and future”, said Mabeo. 

He declared he was aware of what water is to Lesotho, what diamond is to Botswana and because of the great value it has, it is essential to amplify what ReNoka and the government have been doing through different campaigns to educate the nation of how important water is and the need to keep it very clean. 

On Behalf of the school, Kefuoe ‘Moso expressed gratitude to the stakeholders for coming up with such a project that would help monitor the neatness of water as this would also help even in future to live in a healthy and friendly environment due to keeping it clean. “Water is life. We often come here for drinking water and feeding our animals, so we will do everything in our capacity to keep this source clean. There are other schools which are a bit distant from here, but still benefit from this river so we will take it upon ourselves to share and disseminate the important information we got here today even to our neighbours so that we all undertake our responsibility.” She further urged all those who pollute water through disposing waste such as dirty diapers and plastics to stop doing so as this contaminates the water, declines its quality and makes it unsafe for consumption.

The project significantly comes at a time when the World Rivers Day is approaching, which is on September, 25th, and brings an opportunity to reflect on the roles played by rivers in everyday life, the pressures they face today in a world of nearly eight billion people, and the need to protect and manage them sustainably.

It has been found by UNEP (2022) that rivers are highly diverse and productive ecosystems, contributing to economic growth, food security and human well-being. Globally, an estimated 2 billion people rely directly on rivers for their drinking water. Meanwhile, rivers provide some of the world’s most productive fisheries and livelihoods for 60 million people, 55 per cent of whom are women.