Daryl Ilbury

The problem with water for everyone

In Eish!, Politics on March 18, 2012 at 11:40 am

So many taps, so little water

There is an uncomfortable truth living in a developing country with one of the most progressive constitutions in the world – the balance of expectation versus delivery.

Case in point: in South Africa access to water is a constitutional right, not a priviledge. Unfortunately political history dictated that for many years urbanisation marginalised the majority. Cities and suburbs – and their predominantly white inhabitants – enjoyed continued infrastructural development, whilst blacks were allocated to the fringes of both the urban space and development.

Now, almost 20 years after the first democratic elections, rapid urbanisation and shifts in demographics are placing incredible strain on infrastructures that have a limited capacity and service life.

This is especially the case where the provision of water is concerned. With a focus on providing access to water, the South African Government seems to have forgotten two things:

  • Access to water is meaningless without the provision of water. Because someone who previously had to fetch their water in a bucket from a river now has a tap in their shack, doesn’t mean they have access to water. It just means they have a tap in their shack; and,
  • The nature of human behaviour. Because someone who previously had to fetch their water in a bucket from a river now has a tap in their shack, doesn’t mean they’re going to use the same amount of water they got in a bucket. They’re going to, understandably relish in the ‘unlimited’ supply of water.

With more people having access to water in taps, more water is going to flow, which means more water needs to be drawn from the provisional infrastructure, and more water is going to be wasted.

Unfortunately, if there is something that has become worryingly clear, it’s that many municipalities in South Africa are badly managed, and too many of them are corrupt.

In 2009 the South African Minister of Water Affairs  Buyelwa Sonjica said that all municipalities were to have ‘Blue Drop’ Status by 2010. In order to be awarded Blue Drop Status municipalities have to achieve a score of 95% through a rating process that measures the microbiological and chemical composition of the water, and the physical and operational fitness of its provision.

According to the ICLEI–  an international association of local governments and national and regional local government organisations that have made a commitment to sustainable development – of the 162 municipalities investigated for the Blue Drop report in 2011, only 68 – or 42% – were awarded blue drop status.

What is also interesting is that of the top 10 Blue Drop municipalities for 2010 (latest available stats on the Dept of Water Affairs website) – five of them are in one province – the Western Province – managed by the DA – the official opposition.

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