Operation Hydrate how does it work?

By Danielle van Wyk

“We need to get water to the drought areas as fast as possible,” said Operation Hydrate co-ordinator, Yaseen Theba. Operation Hydrate is a donation reliant public initiative. It has to date distributed four million litres of drinking water to drought stricken areas, primarily in the Eastern Cape and Free State region. But is this sustainable?

Operation Hydrate

The Johannesburg-based initiative has rallied huge support, as the public were called on to donate five litre of bottled water purchased from retail stores such as Pick n Pay, Checkers etc., at designated drop-off points.

The operation only accepts sealed bottles and they are assessed by the staff upon drop off.

“There are central drop off points in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Cape Town and Durban. A number of schools, churches, Mosques etc., have also come up to make things more convenient for the public.

“Donors can also transfer money into the bank account or send an SMS to the SMS line on the website,” was what the campaign advertised with, Theba said. 


“There is no doubt that bottled water might not be the most economical and practical way to distribute water, but at this stage it is the fastest way to get some water to the areas affected.

“People are happy to get water, and happy that we continue distributing and returning to areas. We don't want fellow South Africans to become desperate for this basic need,” expressed Theba.

On average, a five litre water bottle from Pick n Pay is R20.50. For those who can afford it, donating one bottle a week would only cost about R82 per month.

“We are looking at more sustainable ways to get water to areas affected, but this planning takes time and we need to ensure it will be managed by the communities,” Theba added.

The operation, in addition, is currently sourcing water from areas where there are no restrictions, explained Theba.
With five of the nine provinces declared drought disaster zones, and the Western Cape being the most recent to apply for disaster status, water shortages both domestic and agricultural are dire.

Reports this week having stated that the Western Cape, for example, needs R88 million to help local farmers avert drought related issues.

“The amount requested in based on an estimate that 8 385 large stock units in the West Coast and Central Karoo districts need fodder for five months.

“The objective of this support is to assist stock farmers to maintain their stock nucleus or genetic material, which will allow them to rebuild their herds after the drought.

“It will also allow them to withdraw their animals from the veld into kraals and thereby provide an opportunity for the veld to recover. This conserves natural resources and increases the sustainability of their farming enterprises,” stated Alan Winde, Western Cape minister of Economic Opportunities.

Ahead of the Budget Speech later this month, it is expected to be a focal point for both the Department of Agriculture and National Treasury.

How is the water transported?

Donated water gets transported via convoy to the designated areas.

Volunteer staff communicate with the Department of Water and Sanitation, and the National Disaster Management Centre to ensure that they are not duplicating distribution.


The operation relies on the sponsorship and donations of companies like Telkom, Mango and Shoprite to name a few. These companies are then responsible for footing fuel and transport costs, explained Theba.

In addition, Minister of water and sanitation, Nomvula Mokonyane, has pledged R50 million to the Nelson Mandela Foundation to boost the operation. 

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