The one province in South Africa where two-thirds of houses sit without water for days

 ·26 May 2024

Over the past year, more than one-third of South African households experienced water interruptions, increasing to two-thirds in certain provinces.

This is according to recent statistics from StatsSA, which examined the functionality of the country’s water supply.

“The functionality of municipal water supply services measures the extent to which households that received water from a municipality had reported, over the 12 months before the survey, interruptions that lasted more than 2 days at a time, or more than 15 days in total during the whole period,” said StatsSA.

On a countrywide average, around 35.8% of households reported water interruptions that lasted at least two days.

The province with the highest reported interruptions was Mpumalanga, at 66.9% of households. This is followed by the Northern Cape and Limpopo, at 59.7% and 57.2% respectively.

This contrasts with the Western Cape, at 3.4%.

Percentage (%) distribution of households that reported water interruptions that lasted at least two days by province, 2023. Source: StatsSA

The country’s metropolitans recorded a smaller percentage of households reporting water interruptions at 22.8%.

The percentage distribution of households that reported water interruptions by metropolitan area are:

  • Nelson Mandela Bay – 45.1%;
  • Buffalo City – 36.3%;
  • eThekwini – 33.2%;
  • Mangaung – 30.6%;
  • Johannesburg – 24.5%;
  • Tshwane – 23.3%;
  • Ekurhuleni – 19.5%;
  • Cape Town – 3.9%.

What is causing the water woes?

As shown, the severity of water problems varies greatly across the country due to the presence of different water management systems, each with varying degrees of effectiveness.

Regardless, countrywide averages tell a worrying story.

Recently released reports by the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) — including the GreenBlue, and No Drop Reports – paint a concerning image of the current state of the provision of the essential resource, showing that at a countrywide average:

  • 51% of water provided has poor to bad microbiological water quality status;
  • 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.

Reasons for this include (but are not limited to) inadequate planning and management, shortage of qualified personnel to oversee crucial processes, significant underinvestment in infrastructure which has seen it rapidly deteriorate, vandalism, corruption, a surge in demand, and unreliable power supply.

While numerous water boards have been attempting to play catch-up, experts are saying that they need to go further and get ahead of the curve to prevent a national water disaster.

According to a study by the DWS, “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.”

Currently, over R100 billion worth of water supply system projects are underway, and each supply intervention project outlined proves costly to the fiscus.

Experts say that while supply management interventions are crucial, these efforts will prove futile if the country does not simultaneously address other mounting water issues.

“While I agree that we have to change our relationship with water and definitely all be involved in saving, reusing and recycling water – we have to prioritise fixing our existing infrastructure and municipalities ability to supply water services,” said Dr Ferrial Adam from water-rights advocacy group, WaterCAN.

Issues that require attention include improving poor records of water conservation and demand management, strike a balance between supply and demand management, and improve the performance and adherence to standard operating procedures for drinking water treatment and wastewater treatment.

Read: It could go from bad to worse for water in South Africa

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