The Xai Xai Sewage outlet
The Xai Xai Sewage outlet into the Limpopo River. Untreated sewage is disposed of this way. The thick black plastic cover prevents the river from flooding back up into the houses. | Credit: Steve Collins

Strengthening Water Security from the Headwaters to the Mouth of the Limpopo

Building resilience through water supply and sanitation interventions in South African and Mozambican municipalities
By Suvritha Rampha, Steve Collins

According to USAID’s Southern Africa’s Climate Change Risk Profile, “Changes in water quality and availability will be the dominant changes seen under a new climate.” The sensitivity of livelihoods and economies to these changes, together with a lack of access to drinking water (and contamination of existing supply), threatens water security and resilience in a region where water demands are rising in response to an increasing population.

USAID’s Resilient Waters Program, in partnership with SADC’s multi-country river basin commissions, is assisting targeted municipalities from the source of the Limpopo River in South Africa to its mouth in Mozambique to better manage drinking water and sanitation to build water security and resilience in the Southern Africa region.

Reducing Contamination in the Headwaters of the Limpopo River

Thirty-six percent of South African sanitation is on-site or non-sewered sanitation where fecal sludge is treated together with domestic and industrial wastewater despite the differences in sludge characteristics requiring different treatment technologies. Current laws do not effectively guide safe management of non-sewered sanitation and therefore risks contamination to water supply endangering human health. As a result, in August 2020 the USAID Resilient Waters Program and the South African Department of Water and Sanitation agreed to develop the county’s first ever National Fecal Sludge Management Strategy by 2022 to address the risks posed to human health from water supply contamination. The Strategy will guide the South African sanitation sector to safely manage on-site sanitation for an estimated 55 million people.

  • May 2020, the USAID Resilient Waters Program formalized a collaboration agreement with the Polokwane Municipality in South Africa to roll-out Fecal Sludge Management Tools/Assessments -- such as Sanitation Safety Plan, Shit-Flow Diagram, Urban Resilience Toolkit, and City Service Delivery Assessment -- to build the evidence base upon which the strategy will be developed. The findings from these assessments will be consolidated into a fecal sludge management plan for Polokwane, to guide fiscal funding towards improving the management of sludge across the non-sewered sanitation service chain.

Coastal adaptation at the mouth of the Limpopo

The groundwater that the population of Xai Xai, Mozambique depends on has high nitrate and salinity levels caused by unsafely managed fecal sludge dumped near sources of groundwater supply and salt water intrusion caused by flooding. This puts at risk the health of the 120,000 people within the Xai Xai municipal area. Resilient Waters is working with the Municipality and the National Directorate for Water Supply and Sanitation to identify risks in the sanitation service chain and develop an implementation plan to improve health outcomes and the security of drinking water quality.

To address high levels of salinity, the program will deploy an innovative drone-based aquifer mapping system to understand and better manage where salt is getting into the aquifer. The system measures the electrical conductivity of water in the aquifer (and therefore the salinity). This will help the municipality understand the role of non-saline freshwater flows from the Limpopo and Massinger Dam in recharging the aquifer and possibly forming a barrier against saline sea water intrusion.

Complementing improved management of the aquifer, Resilient Waters is working with Xai Xai to implement a broader Climate Adaptation Plan and supporting the community of Xai Xai to rehabilitate the estuary’s mangroves. Improving the functioning of the mangrove ecosystem will improve fisheries which much of the community depends on while further securing the groundwater from sea water incursion.


Working at strategic points throughout the Limpopo system, Resilient Waters and its government partners are helping to improve water security in a region where climate and population are increasing pressure on this precious resource. As provincial capitals, with the support of USAID, Polokwane and Xai Xai are well placed to be regional examples of how improved water supply and sanitation services can make people more climate resilient and water secure.

Strategic Objective
Adaptation, Climate Change, Coastal, Conflict and Governance, Development, Health, Infrastructure, Resilience, Urban, Water and Sanitation

Suvritha Rampha

Ms Suvritha Ramphal is an Associate for JG Afrika, South Africa and is currently working on the USAID Resilient Waters Program in Southern Africa as the WASH Component Coordinator. Suvritha is also the Outgoing Lead and Advisor to the South African Young Water Professionals and is currently completing a Masters in Science in Environmental Management at the University of Pretoria in South Africa. She has a passion for development work and shaping the minds of tomorrow's future leaders. Lets share our experiences and grow together as we work towards a resilient future.

Steve Collins

Steve Collins is a development consultant and is currently the Livelihoods and Adaptation Advisor for the USAID Resilient Waters Program. He is the chairperson of the African Safari Foundation which advises communities on maximizing the sustainable benefits achieved from conservation areas. The work he has done with the community based ecotourism is recognized as global best community conservation practices. His clients include international co-operating partners, private sector eco-tourism operators, conservation NGOs and community based organizations.

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