More than a third of South Africans without water – R90bn needed to fix this



Nearly 500 000 residents of Sebokeng and Evaton in the Emfuleni local municipality were left without water for the past three days. The municipality said that the abrupt stop in water supply was due to a power failure at the Langerand reservoir on Sunday. This then led to low levels of water in the area.

Water tanks had to be brought in by the authorities so residents would have a supply of water while municipal technicians were sent to the reservoir for repairs.

The water interruption is the latest in a series of challenges facing Emfuleni and other municipal water systems in the country. These include leakages, poor piping infrastructure and various sanitation issues.

The sector is further plagued by an infrastructure backlog, lack of planning, mismanagement and corruption.

It was against this backdrop that Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu launched the department’s “master plan” in Tshwane on Thursday.

The plan, which was approved by Cabinet last year, spells out the government’s strategy to manage water security in the country amid a deepening crisis. It will guide the government’s actions to address the challenges faced in the sector until 2030 and beyond.

Speaking at the launch, Sisulu said the plan aims to address “systemic infrastructure challenges to secure continuous and uninterrupted supply of water for both community and business”.

The minister explained that the department hopes to also present the strategy to potential investors to assure them that “South Africa is open for business”.

“Being open for business means our taps will also be open for [investors]. We also have to provide the same assurances to our local businesses, big and small, as well as our farmers,” she said.

Last year, the Auditor General found that the department had overspent its R14-billion budget by R2-billion. This effectively left the bankrupt department unable to carry out its mandates.

To increase its capacity and mitigate its various challenges — like maladministration and corruption — Sisulu said she would propose to Cabinet that government be restructured to allow for a water and sanitation department at national, provincial and municipal levels. At a provincial level, it would be assisted by water boards.

This, she said, is in a bid to improve efficiency and reduce losses.

Over the next 10 years, the department forecasts that at least R90-billion will be needed to fund its capital projects. The amount is based on the department’s priority areas: reducing backlog in providing access to basic water and sanitation services, maintaining and refurbishing poor infrastructure, provision of water resources development and provision of new reticulation infrastructure to meet water demand.

The budget for the water sector for the 2018/19 year has already been approved and the department said that its funding supply options are limited because of challenges such as its financial status and ailing economy. The department said a mix of loans and other funding structures will be used to fund the requirements of the master plan.

Only 64% of South Africans have access to basic water supply services. Sisulu said that there is still a long way to go in order to close the gap between the haves and the have nots to make sure that “unacceptable levels of inequality and poverty do not impact on the constitutional right to access to water services”.

Sisulu said South Africa’s average rainfall of 464mm is one of the lowest in the world and the situation is about to get worse. The global rainfall average is 860mm. She said water security would be guaranteed through a combination of smart, green technology and a “great game plan.” Part of the plan includes establishing a water response team that would be deployed to fix water leaks and clean up the country’s rivers.

Many parts of the country are water stressed. This has been exacerbated by high temperatures, which has in turn led to the decline of dam levels. The latest Rand Water data shows that the Vaal Dam (Gauteng) is currently at 42.5%, Mpumalanga’s Grootdraai Dam is at 52.8%, with Bloemhof Dam in the North West and Free State at 70.1% and Sterkfontein Dam in the Free State at 91.4%.

Although many of the dams that supply the country’s urban regions are at a reasonable level, there are growing fears that the country is facing a widespread drought. Taps have already run dry in parts of the Eastern Cape and a drop in dam levels in Gauteng led Rand Water to institute water restrictions in eastern parts of Tshwane. Cape Town’s recent experience of “Day Zero” — where the municipality realised that its water supply would be insufficient for all its residents — also did not help allay fears of a possible, national drought.

Speaking at the launch Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure Patricia de Lille said drought is “the new normal.”

“Drought means that we have to fundamentally change our relationship with water. Climate change brings great uncertainty and drastic changes in our weather patterns to events like droughts and wildfires.” 

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Thando Maeko
Thando Maeko is an Adamela Trust business reporter at the Mail & Guardian

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