Environment, Development and Sustainability

, Volume 8, Issue 1, pp 139–156 | Cite as

Water, Workfare and Poverty: The Impact of the Working for Water Programme on Rural Poverty Reduction

  • R. A. Hope


In 1995, the government of the Republic of South Africa launched the Working for Water (WfW) programme that links environmental and developmental goals through the removal of high water-consuming alien plants with pro-poor rural employment opportunities. Whilst bio-physical evaluations have widely reported on the hydrological, ecological and conservation components of the programme, there exists growing uncertainty over the programme’s role as a poverty reduction mechanism. This paper evaluates three projects in the Luvuvhu catchment, Limpopo Province, against five socio-economic workfare criteria and the underlying biophysical rationale. Results show that asset creation from incremental streamflow is economically efficient and is likely to improve significantly if biodiversity benefits, community harvesting of riparian goods and services, ecological non-use values and seasonal water demand values are incorporated into the analysis. However, socio-economic benefits are more questionable: poverty targeting is weak with wage rates failing to self-select the poor; a minor proportion (0.5%) of catchment households benefit from the highly-valued employment opportunities; high variability in monthly employment causes financial difficulties for labourers; labourers are not ‘empowered’ as is evidenced by the failure of the 2-year exit strategy; and programme efficiency is high in proportional allocation of cash-flow to non-management wage labour. It is concluded that the Working for Programme is a potentially replicable model in other semi-arid contexts in developing countries if based on its core biophysical remit but is a transitory and limited poverty reduction mechanism for improving rural livelihoods.


invasive alien plants poverty reduction South Africa water resources workfare 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Adato, M. and Haddad, L.: 2001, Targeting Poverty Through Community-Based Public Works Programmes: A Cross-Disciplinary Assessment of Recent Experience in South Africa, Food Consumption and Nutrition Division, Discussion Paper No. 121, IFPRI: Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  2. Alexander, W.J.R. 1985‘Hydrology of low latitude southern hemisphere land masses’Hydrobiologia1257583CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bosch, J.M., Hewlett, J.D. 1982‘A review of catchment experiments to determine the effect of vegetation changes on water yield and evaporations’Journal of Hydrology55323CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Calder, I.R. 1999The Blue RevolutionEarthscanLondonGoogle Scholar
  5. Calder, I.R., Dye, P. 2001‘Hydrological impact of invasive alien plants’Land Uses and Water Resources Research1112Google Scholar
  6. DWAF: 1997, The Working for Water Programme: Annual Report 1996/9, Department of Water Affairs and Forestry, PretoriaGoogle Scholar
  7. DWAF2000National Water Conservation and Demand Management Strategy for the Forest Sector in South AfricaDepartment of Water Affairs and ForestryPretoriaGoogle Scholar
  8. DWAF: 2001, The Working for Water Programme: Annual Report 2000/1, Department of Water Affairs and Forestry, PretoriaGoogle Scholar
  9. DWAF2003Water Use Charges for Government Water Schemes and Water Resource Management ChargesDepartment of Water Affairs and ForestryPretoriaGoogle Scholar
  10. Goldin, J. and Esau, F.: 2003, The Efficacy of the Working for Water Programme’s Exit Strategy, paper presented at the Working for Water Inaugural Research Symposium, 19–21 August 2003, Kirstenbosch, Cape Town, South AfricaGoogle Scholar
  11. Gush, M.B., Scott, D.F., Jewitt, G.P.W., Schulze, R.E., Lumsden, T.G., Hallowes, L.A. and Gorgens, A.H.M.: 2002, Estimation of Streamflow Reductions Resulting from Commercial Afforestation in South Africa, WRC Report No TT 173/02, April 2002. Water Research Commission, PretoriaGoogle Scholar
  12. Haddad, L. and Zeller, M.: 1996, How can Safety Nets Do more with Less? General Issues with Some Evidence from Southern Africa, Food Consumption and Nutrition Division, Discussion Paper No. 16, IFPRI, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  13. Haddad, L. and Adato, M.: 2001, How Efficiently do Public Works Programs Transfer Benefits to the Poor? Evidence from South Africa, Food Consumption and Nutrition Division, Discussion Paper No. 108, April 2001, IFPRI, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  14. Hope, R.A. 2004Water policy and poverty reduction in a semi-arid catchmentUniversity of Newcastle-upon-TyneUKPhD thesisGoogle Scholar
  15. Hope, R.A., Jewitt, G.P., Gowing, J.W. 2004‘Linking the hydrological cycle and rural livelihoods: a case study in the Luvuvhu catchment, South Africa’Journal of Physics and Chemistry of the Earth2912091217Google Scholar
  16. Laros, M., Leslie, K. and Manaka, B.: 2003, External Evaluation of the Working for Water Programme: Summary of Findings and Recommendations, paper presented at the Working for Water Inaugural Research Symposium, 19–21 August 2003, Kirstenbosch, Cape Town, South AfricaGoogle Scholar
  17. LeMaitre, D.C., Van Wilgen, B.W. and Fairbanks, D.H.K.: 1997, Impacts of Timber Plantations on Runoff in South Africa: A Handy Reference Manual, Report ENV/S-C96068, Department of Water Affairs and Forestry, PretoriaGoogle Scholar
  18. LeMaitre, D.C., Wilgen, B.W., Gelderblom, C.M., Bailey, C., Chapman, R.A., Nel, J.A. 2002‘Invasive alien trees and water resources in South Africa: case studies of the costs and benefits of management’Forest Ecology and Management160143159Google Scholar
  19. Magdlela, D. 2001‘Social challenges in the Working for Water programme: findings from a study of selected projects’Land Uses and Water Resources Research115.Google Scholar
  20. Marais, C., Turpie, J., Mullins, D., Conradie, B., Khan, A., Goldin, J., van Zyl, H., Grobbelaar, E., Vink, N. and Ndxinge, V.: 2001, A Cost Benefit Analysis Framework for the National Working for Water Programme, Nathan Associates Inc., December 2001Google Scholar
  21. May, J. 1999Poverty and Inequality in South Africa: Meeting the ChallengesZed BooksLondonGoogle Scholar
  22. Mayers, J., Evans, J. and Foy, T.: 2001, Raising the Stakes: Impacts of Privatisation, Certification and Partnership in South African forestry, Instruments for sustainable private sector, forestry series. International Institute for Environment and Development, IIED, LondonGoogle Scholar
  23. Olbrich, B.W. and Hassan, R.: 1999, A comparison of the Economic Efficiency of Water use of Plantations, Irrigated Sugarcane and Sub-tropical Fruits. A Case Study of the Crocodile River Catchment, Mpumalanga Province, report No. 666/1/99, Water Research Commission, PretoriaGoogle Scholar
  24. Ravallion, M. 1999‘Appraising Workfare’World Bank Research Observer143148Google Scholar
  25. RSA: 1998, National Water Act, Government of Republic of South Africa. Act No. 36 of 1998. Government Printer, Cape Town.Google Scholar
  26. Scott, D.F., LeMaitre, D.C., Fairbanks, D.H.K. 1998‘Forestry and streamflow reductions in South Africa: a reference system for assessing extent and distribution’Water SA24187199Google Scholar
  27. Scott, D.F., Le Maitre, D.C. and van Wyk, E.: 1999, The Effects of Forestry on Low Flows: Further Studies on Low Flow in Wet and Dry Cycles and in Relation to Catchments of Increasing size, contract report No. ENV/S-C 99059, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. CSIR PretoriaGoogle Scholar
  28. Shackleton, C.M., Shackleton, S.E., Cousins, B. 2001‘The role of land-based strategies in rural livelihoods: the contribution of arable production, animal husbandry and natural resource harvesting in communal areas of South Africa’Development Southern Africa18581604Google Scholar
  29. Stats SA1999Rural survey, 1997, statistical release: P0360StatsSAPretoriaGoogle Scholar
  30. Subbarao, K.: 1997, Public Works as an Anti-Poverty Program: An overview of Cross-Country Experience, paper submitted for the invited session of ASSA Annual Meetings, January 3–5, 1997, World Bank: Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  31. Teklu, T.: 1995, Employment Programs for Food Security in Sub-Saharan Africa, 2020 Vision Brief 28, August 1995, IFPRI: Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  32. Turpie, J., Joubert, A. 2001‘Estimating potential impacts of a change in river quality on the tourism value of Kruger National Park: an application of travel cost, contingent and conjoint valuation methods’Water SA273Google Scholar
  33. Turpie, J.: 2003, The Role of Resource Economics in the Control of Invasive Alien Plants in South Africa, paper presented at the Working for Water Inaugural Research Symposium, 19–21 August 2003, Kirstenbosch, Cape Town, South AfricaGoogle Scholar
  34. Turton, A., Nicol, A., Allen, T., Earle, A., Meissner, R., Mendelson, S. and Quaison, E.: 2003, Policy Options in Water-stressed States: Emerging Lessons From the Middle-East and Southern Africa, African Water Issues Research Institute, Pretoria and the Overseas Development Institute, ODI, LondonGoogle Scholar
  35. Wilgen, B.W., Richardson, D.M., LeMaitre, D.C., Marais, C., Magadlela, D. 2001‘The economic consequences of alien plant invasions: examples of impacts and approaches to sustainable management in South Africa’Environment, Development and Sustainability3145168Google Scholar
  36. Versfeld, D.B., Le Maitre, D.C. and Chapman, R.A.: 1998, Alien Invading Plants and Water Resources in South Africa: A Preliminary Assessment, WRC Report No. TT 99/98, Water Research Commission. WRC, PretoriaGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Land Use and Water Resources Research (CLUWRR)University of Newcastle-upon-TyneUK

Personalised recommendations