Government to issue ‘boil water notices’ as South Africa’s tap water quality tanks

 ·29 Apr 2022

South Africa’s recently-published Blue Drop 2022 report shows a significant decline in the country’s water quality, with 23% of municipalities flagged as being at critical risk.

Access to sufficient, safe water is a basic right enshrined by South Africa’s Constitution. The Water Services Act places the responsibility for the provision of water services on local government, while the oversight and monitoring duties are delegated to the provincial and national governments.

The 2022 report shows that 40% of South Africa’s water supply systems achieved microbiological water quality compliance, and 23% have achieved chemical water quality compliance. When looking at the ‘drinkability’ of the water in these systems, the data shows:

  • 48% of water supply systems are in the low-risk category;
  • 18% are in the medium-risk category;
  • 11% are in the high-risk category;
  • 23% are in the critical risk category.

While the country’s major metropoles still have safe drinking water, the report flags concerns in more rural and isolated municipalities.

“The poor water quality compliance results are of serious concern to the Department of Water and Sanitation as the majority of supply systems present a potential health risk to consumers. Water services authorities must investigate the root cause of the failure and implement remedial actions to ensure compliance against limits outlined.”

The government said it would issue ‘boil water’ notices in those areas and systems with sustained microbiological failures and ‘water quality advisories’ in systems with sustained chemical failures.

‘Red notes’ will be issued to the worst-affected municipalities who are expected to come up with a plan to address their issues within 60 days.

“While the Department of Water and Sanitation is encouraged by the 48% of supply system in the low-risk category, the 34% of systems which reside in the high and critical risk categories is of concern to the Department as this presents a potential risk to consumers who are supplied by these supply systems.

“The large proportion of low-risk supply systems in the Gauteng and Western Cape provinces is a positive trend which must be followed by the rest of the country to ensure effective risk management of water services provision for all citizens in the country.”

Parts of South Africa are also grappling with the possibility of having no water at all.

There is a high risk that 40% of Nelson Mandela Bay will have no water by the end of May, as the metropole is fast running out of water and there are no significant rains currently projected for the area, the local business chamber said in a statement on 21 April.

Nelson Mandela Bay Chamber chief executive Denise van Huyssteen said the city’s dams face the possibility of running dry, while many reservoirs will naturally be starved of water due to the high demand.

While the metropole has faced a long-standing water problem, local councillors have also blamed sabotage for the most recent problems. This follows several incidents of vandalism of air valves, including on a central water supply line.

Read: One of South Africa’s major cities is facing a water ‘day zero’ at the end of May, business chamber warns

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