Table of Contents

Also refer to the “Water” chapter.


1. Overview


Rainwater harvesting on a commercial farming shed. Picture used courtesy of Helen Gordon, WWF-SA.

Rain water harvesting (RWH) is increasingly being accepted as a practical method of providing both irrigation and potable water in agricultural and development projects throughout the world.

Enough rain falls on the African continent to supply the water needs for 13 billion people, twice the current world population. However, little of the rainfall is collected or stored through sustainable methods, such as small and large-scale rainwater harvesting.

In South Africa, where the backyards of rural homesteads add up to a whopping 200 000 hectares (i.e. double the current area under smallholder irrigation), the potential impact on food security is more than significant.

The level of economic activity has been shown to double in rural villages with access to more water. This has a direct impact on poverty. Every household with a roof can potentially harvest and store rainwater.

RWH has wide application also in urban and peri-urban areas where the quantity, reliability and quality of piped water are sometimes questioned. Some rainwater might require treatment before it is considered suitable for drinking. So-called “appropriate technology” methods (e.g. as solar water disinfection) provide low-cost disinfection options for treatment of stored rainwater for drinking.

Source: UN Environment Programme (UNEP) “Environmental Food Crisis” report, May 2009. Find it at;; Tsepho Khumbane, Trustee of The Mvula Trust (adapted) 


2. Role players