Free water for poor only, says govt committee

A parliamentary committee has recommended South Africa’s free basic water (FBW) policy be ”re-determined” to exclude those who can afford to pay for their water supply.

The FBW policy currently provides, free of charge, 6 000 litres of water per household per month to more than two-thirds of South Africa’s population.

Although the primary intention of the scheme is to ensure no one is denied access to a water supply simply because they are unable to pay for it, many urban service providers have included all their area’s consumers within the scheme through a system of ”rising block tariffs”.

This system sees households in some towns and cities getting the first ”block” of up to 6 000 litres a month for free. Should they use more water, they pay for it on a sliding scale.

The Department of Water Affairs and Forestry says this system works well in areas where there are sufficient high-income consumers in the highest tariff block, using relatively large amounts of water and paying more than the cost of supply.

Essentially, the high-income consumers subsidise the cost of free supply to the poor households in that area.

The department has also described this system as ”equitable”, and says it does not require measures to identify which are the poor households.

However, according to recommendations contained in a report of the water affairs portfolio committee, to be debated in the National Assembly on Wednesday, the department should start ”earmarking” such poor households.

”The way in which the free basic water service is provided to the people should be re-determined.

”[The department] should consider earmarking people in areas who cannot afford to pay for water to receive free provision, and not include those living in areas that can afford to pay for water services.

”Other means should therefore be created to provide the infrastructure for water provision to the people.”

The report also appears to recommend water meters not be installed in the homes of those considered ”previously disadvantaged”.

”When providing people with water, especially the previously disadvantaged, the implementation of water meters should be considered and strategised.

”Where water meters are implemented, those people who cannot afford to pay suffer the consequences of having their water cut off.”

This is against the provisions of the Constitution, which states everyone has a right to access to sufficient food and water, the report said. — Sapa

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Richard Davies
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