/ 27 January 2024

Senzo Mchunu tells eThekwini to ‘work day and night’ to fix water problems

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Water and Sanitation Minister Senzo Mchunu. (PHILL MAGAKOE/AFP via Getty Images)

Water and Sanitation Minister Senzo Mchunu has called on the water sector to prioritise providing adequate services to the public.

Speaking in KwaZulu-Natal this week, Mchunu said his department was aware of the 

ongoing water problems in many parts of the country, and was looking for solutions.

Part of the solutions includes making strategic decisions and planning comprehensively and carefully for the country’s future water security

Recent floods coupled with water trouble in eThekwini have left people in oThongathi, Phoenix and Verulam without water since last year, with residents accusing the metro of neglect.

Mchunu said the city needs to build resilience to its water supply system in light of flood risks.

“We are supplying raw water to eThekwini more than the licence requires, which is a problem. This, in the main, is due to the water losses; the amount of water eThekwini loses,” he said.

He added that the region needs to fix the leaks, seal the system, improve the supply and improve efficiency “so that there is reliable water supply to everyone in eThekwini”.

He said the department has been working with the municipality’s leadership to urgently resolve the problems. 

“We are, however, deeply concerned that the heavy rain storms that are continuously battering parts of the province and causing massive damage to infrastructure, including that of water, have exacerbated the situation.”

Mchunu said the metro has to provide water to the citizens, as mandated by the  Constitution.

“We urge the municipality to act with urgency and decisively, even if it means they must work day and night, to resolve the matter and ensure that services are fully restored to the communities affected,” Mchunu said.

eThekwini mayor Mxolisi Kaunda on Thursday said R1.2 billion has been set aside to address infrastructure problems that contribute to water shortages.

The department’s latest report, released last month, painted a grim picture of the water quality in the country, which is exacerbated by failing water infrastructure.

The Blue Drop Audit Report ensures that water service authorities are held accountable for providing safe drinking water.

The report noted that 67.6% of wastewater treatment works are close to failure, which has increased the loss of clean and treated water lost through leaks or could not be accounted for. 

Several water supply systems were operating close to or beyond their design capacity, with monitoring and compliance systems showing signs of being severely deficient. 

“This makes fixing problems impossible … Water supply systems are in poor and critical condition in 23 parts of the country,” the report said.

Speaking during a recent summit, Mchunu said it was important for water sectors to prioritise professionalism and service delivery to the public to address the decline in performance.

Mchunu said not providing clean drinking water and a clean environment goes against people’s basic human rights, as outlined in the Bill of Rights in the Constitution. 

“It is therefore imperative that the water sector takes immediate action to address these challenges,” he said.

Climate change is expected to result in an increase in the variability of rainfall throughout the country and a reduction in the average rainfall, particularly in the western part of South Africa. 

It is expected to also increase the agricultural demand for water because of higher temperatures and reduce the country’s ability to rely on rain-fed agriculture.

The International Panel on Climate Change warns that climate-induced changes in water cycles and drought will increase across Southern Africa over the next decade.