Millions still without clean water and sanitation

Barry Streek

The government’s commitment to provide water and sanitation to rural areas falls short of targets for the worst-affected provinces of KwaZulu-Natal, North West and Northern Province, Auditor General Shauket Fakie told Parliament this week.

Fakie said by August 1999 only 195 of the 1025 approved Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) projects had been completed, representing 19% of the total approved. By March last year about 7,06-million South Africans still did not have access to clean water and sanitation.

The shortfall in the provision of water is attributed to budget cuts, poor project management and sustainability of completed projects.

“The unavailability of funds and a cut in the allocation of funds to water projects resulted in the slowing down of the completion of the approved RDP projects,” Fakie says.

Mike Muller, Director General of the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry, said:“Progress with the provision of water services has been slower than was originally anticipated. One of the reasons is the low level of funding relative to the need.”

Muller said remedial measures are already under way.
Additional funding has been secured, including R100-million a year from the state as part of poverty alleviation funding and R21-million a year from the spatial development initiative. International donor funding has also been secured, including R259-million from the European Community and R122-million from the People’s Republic of China.

Fakie also said budget cuts during April 1998 made it difficult for the department to reach its goal of providing 12-million people with clean water, resulting in the suspension of at least 20 projects in KwaZulu-Natal.

“This resulted in a total funding shortfall of R77,6-million on these 20 projects, which had been committed by contracts, with 181000 people being affected by the budget cuts.

“Furthermore, during the 1998/99 financial year the approved budget of Mhlathuze water board was cut by 50%, resulting in a shortfall of R21,7-million. Consequently, 10 of the board’s 13 projects in progress had to be suspended. The costs incurred for penalties, storage, security and payments for work already done on the suspended projects amounted to R3 216 922,” Fakie said.

In the North West province community water supply projects were put on hold in August 1998, affecting about 50000 villagers. In the Northern Province, phase one of the Batlokwa community water supply scheme, valued at R2,2-million, which delivered bulk water to two villages, was completed in April 1998. However, 11 other villages in the scheme are still without water. The implementation of phase two of the scheme, scheduled to start in July 1998, was postponed to January last year.

Muller said his department is taking action to ensure accurate and realistic budgeting, the efficient use of available funds and the application of budget cuts where the effect would be the least.

Fakie said water projects were also marred by inadequate consultation with affected communities. In the North West, business plans of about 53 of the 82 water supply projects, including their long-term sustainability, could not be submitted for verification, and the department did not always ensure that identified water supply projects were implemented timeously, “resulting in communities being dissatisfied”.

The same holds with regard to the sustainability of completed water projects that had been transferred to communities for their operation and maintenance.

“There were approximately seven projects in the North West that had totally collapsed after diesel engines worth R68 400 were stolen from the Sebowana, Moshawana, Setlagole, Bosadiwapitse and Setlopo villages.”

Fakie said contractors appointed by implementing agents had not been evaluated against applicable criteria and guarantees had not been obtained for contracts allocated to them, and in some cases the workmanship of contractors was poor, resulting in additional repair costs.

In response, Muller said the sustainability of water projects has been identified as “a major problem. It is being addressed by revisiting projects, rehabilitating projects and giving increased attention to the operation, maintenance and capacity of the local government.”

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