Government’s answer to the water crisis

 ·7 Apr 2024

In hopes of preventing a further escalation of water crises, Deputy President Paul Mashatile is reportedly looking to court farmers, the Solidarity trade union and its affiliate AfriForum to help local governments repair and maintain hundreds of stricken water-treatment plants across the country.

This was revealed by Mashatile in an interview with the Sunday Times, where the DP is currently heading a ministerial team tasked with averting a further escalation of the problem.

The Deputy President said that the water crisis in the country has reached the point where the national government would step in where necessary, with many areas of the country already seeing their taps run dry, water cuts (or “water shedding” as government has described it) and unsafe drinking water.

Speaking about who he plans on getting assistance from, Mashatile said that this crisis necessitates an all-hands-on-deck approach – which would include expertise from farmers, mostly Afrikaner civic movement Solidarity and its affiliate AfriForum.

South Africa’s water systems have been facing a deterioration over the past several years. While the water crisis in Gauteng and its economic hub Johannesburg has grabbed headlines of late, it is but one of many examples of water supply authorities across the country struggling to fulfill their mandates.

The Department of Water and Sanitation’s recently released reports — including the GreenBlue, and No Drop Reports – show that at a countrywide average:

  • 46% of drinking water systems did not meet microbiological standards;
  • 67.6% of wastewater treatments failed to adequately process sewage and other wastes;
  • 40.8% of water was lost due to leaks or was unaccounted for.

According to the No Drop report, there is a concern about the “decline in water loss management practices, lack of metering, and poor infrastructure maintenance in majority of the municipalities.”

“Water demand is expected to sharply increase over the next 20 years while the water supply is likely to decline, therefore anticipating a projected supply deficit of 17% by 2030,” added the report.

Executive manager of water advocacy group WaterCAN, Dr. Ferrial Adam, has said that to prevent a catastrophic countrywide crisis, the government and its entities need to act with urgency and transparency about the condition of water entities and supply systems.

She stressed the importance of the government and its officials engaging in clear, transparent, and honest communication with the public. This involves outlining the challenges being faced and keeping citizens informed about progress and developments.

Additionally, she advocated for a collaborative, “all hands on deck” approach to address these challenges efficiently.

“This is not the beginning of the water woes in this country and neither is it the end. What we are [currently] seeing now will continue and could get worse if we do not act with urgency,” said Adam.

Previously, Adam has said that the key interventions for water need to focus on:

  • Infrastructure repair and upgrades;
  • Identifying and fixing leaks;
  • Ensuring an adequate budget for infrastructure maintenance;
  • Renewal and extension;
  • Addressing vandalism;
  • Improve access to clean drinking water.

New water SOE in the pipeline

Back in March, Parliament passed the South African National Water Resources Infrastructure SOC Bill, which provides for establishing the South African National Water Resources Infrastructure Agency as a state-owned company and major public entity.

The sweeping reforms are intended to attract private investment, enforce accountability for non-performance and remedy a crisis that has seen outages nationwide.

“Amid water service delivery pressures in some parts of the country, it is envisioned that this new Agency will help create a reliable water supply in the country,” said Parliament.

Read: Expect water woes for the next 5 years, says government

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