/ 23 February 2018

Parched areas get R6bn for aid and water infrastructure

Parched Areas Get R6bn For Aid And Water Infrastructure

With severe drought conditions affecting large parts of the country and placing extreme strain on the supply of water for nearly four million Capetonians, Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba set aside R6‑billion to mitigate the effects of the drought.

This amount includes disaster relief grants for provinces and municipalities to the tune of R437‑million. “Other conditional grants can be prioritised to respond to disasters if necessary,” he said.

The budget allocation will be used for drought relief and to increase investment in public infrastructure.

Co-operative governance and traditional affairs department spokesperson Legadima Leso told the Mail & Guardian that, although the funds are not ring-fenced for drought relief only, the ministry is pleased with the announcement as the money will be used for emergencies that may arise.

“We welcome the announcement … as it will assist in terms of drought and also plans that may be put in place, especially in the most affected provinces, to [ensure] that we reverse the impact of drought on our communities,” said Leso.

“South Africa is a water-scarce country and our climate is changing in ways that make the rainfall patterns far less predictable than in the past,” Gigaba said, urging South Africans to conserve water.

The government is concerned about potential job losses in vulnerable farming communities that have suffered as a result of the drought. It will explore mitigating these job losses by increasing the intake in the Working for Water programme, which employs people to remove invasive alien plants.

“Cape Town has already received R74‑million from the national disaster management and [the co-operative affairs department]. They recently told us that they have only used 27% or so of that money. They are still using that money in terms of interventions they are putting in place for drought,” Leso said, adding that, should the need arise, the provincial government and the City of Cape Town will contact the National Disaster Management Centre to see what other resources can be allocated to address the water shortage issue.

Additional drought response funds for water infrastructure projects and the expanded public works programme will be factored into the adjustment budget, Gigaba said.

As local government continues to face financial management and governance problems, “too many municipalities do not charge tariffs that reflect the full cost of the service they deliver, in particular water services”, he said in his budget speech.

As a result, they are unable to pay their own creditors. In November, Minister of Water and Sanitation Nomvula Mokonyane disclosed that 30 municipalities owed R10‑billion in overdue water bills.

As towns in the Northern Cape, Western Cape and Eastern Cape scramble for water, the “national government will continue to work with municipalities to respond effectively to the water crisis”, Gigaba said.

In addition, the treasury and the environmental affairs department are due to publish a policy brief to broaden the scope of environmental fiscal reform to improve water resource management.

Thulebona Mhlanga is an Adamela Trust trainee financial reporter at the Mail & Guardian