/ 4 May 2018

Equal access to water is paramount if South Africa is to change

Despite the city not meeting water conservation targets
Dams would need to reach 65% by the end of the rainy season at the start of October before the city's water storage capacity moves out of the danger zone. (David Harrison/M&G)


As the country’s water resources continue to be under pressure, the question of equity and the allocation of water for transformation, the goal of which is poverty eradication and promoting sustainable socioeconomic development, is critical.

Given that water is a catalyst for, and affects the development of, the economy, it is reasonable to conclude that a failure to allocate water to previously disadvantaged individuals would undermine the principle of equity.

Equitable access to water and the benefits derived from it are central to transformation and to moving previously disadvantaged people from the periphery of the economy to the mainstream economy.

The department of water and sanitation firmly believes that equity requires much more awereness that for a long time some sections of the population were historically denied access to water and its economic benefits. The upshot of this has been a source of great concern and deprivation.

Yet this does not deny the fact that much work has been done since 1994 to provide clean, quality water to people. It is a constitutional imperative to provide water and any act or omission that deviates from this is at variance with the values of a caring society. But it is acknowledged that these efforts have not gone far enough towards achieving some parity between those who were advantaged and those who were not in terms of access to water.

The importance of transformation in the way in which water is allocated is even more critical when issues of land reform are considered. Any effort aimed at transforming the land ownership patterns in the country should go with the question of equity in the allocation of water.

Giving people an opportunity to work the land without providing them with access to water will defeat the whole project of addressing the disparities of the past. In fact, it would perpetuate the prejudices they have suffered.

Access to water is one of the means of production that cannot be discounted. Thus, water should be part and parcel of any land use meant for production.

Accordingly, the department is setting its sights on making sure that equal access to the benefits of water is achieved.To realise this, the department is fully conscious that this requires looking seriously at matters such as renewing infrastructure, investing in human capabilities, stimulating innovation and technological development, redressing historical inequalities and increasing participation in the governance and management of water resources.

The department, to put muscle behind its efforts to readdress inequity in terms of both race and gender, may set aside water in catchment areas for allocation to previously disadvantaged individuals, more specifically women and blacks. This will be the case in stressed areas when water becomes available.

Yet this does not mean that those who have existing water-use licences will be excluded or prejudiced economically. But it should be emphasised that those who were previously disadvantaged will receive preference when applying for water licences. Thus, in as much as land ownership is getting attention, the issue of water allocation cannot be relegated to a “by the way”. It is a limited resource and an emotive issue and should be up there with other issues of national importance.

To effect transformation of the water sector, though, the responsibility cannot be placed solely on the shoulders of the department. Because water is central for national growth and development, a wide array of stakeholders must play an active part in ensuring that the water sector is transformed for the benefit of all.

Hosia Sithole is spokesperson of the department of water and sanitation, Gauteng region