Where are the No Drop reports?
Wasting water through leaks is a form of tax abuse and a national challenge requiring all hands on deck
South Africa is a water scarce country, but we could be losing up to 50% of clean drinking water due to failing infrastructure and leaking pipes. Add to that the pollution of clean water and the problem of over abstraction, and it is clear that our water resources are under severe strain.
Submissions by various municipalities, water boards and community organisations in KwaZulu-Natal to the recent South African Human Rights Commission’s inquiry into access to water, has highlighted the perilous water situation in KZN. According to a submission made by the Umgeni Water Board, loss of water in the province through burst pipes and leaky infrastructure, combined with unauthorised water consumption, stood at 55% a month.
The Water Community Action Network (WaterCAN) believes that the loss of clean water is a national challenge, and the reason why we urgently need a current No Drop report. The last report was released in 2012, resulting in the stats from a ten-year old report still being used. “In the last few years, we are increasingly witnessing cities and towns experiencing or coming close to experiencing day zeros. The failing infrastructure, lack of regulation and corruption are exacerbating our water challenges. Climate change is not going to wait for us to get our house in order. We need an updated No Drop report to be able to identify the critical risk areas that need immediate attention,” said Dr Ferrial Adam, WaterCAN manager.
Almost every single municipality that presented before the SAHRC admitted that they simply were not maintaining their existing infrastructure and that they experienced a massive backlog in meeting their targets. They also admitted that corruption was rife, that there was a high level of water theft and high levels of vandalism, both from staff and the public.
In addition, municipalities are “stealing” extra water. The lack of enforcement at a national department level has resulted in the over abstraction of water. The Msunduzi Municipality stated on record that they are in in contravention of certain aspects of their water use licence. Officials admitted to the SAHRC that they have instructed Umgeni Water, a provider of bulk water services, to abstract more water than allowed in their licence conditions.
The municipality said they have little choice but to breach their licence condition because of the high volume of water loss in its own system driven by poorly maintained infrastructure. They experience on average six major pipe bursts a day. “Clearly the loss of clean water and failing infrastructure is a challenge, but municipalities should be held accountable for abusing their water use licenses. We do not have enough water as a country to just disregard basic regulations, not even if you are the government,” said Adam. “This is a form of tax abuse as ratepayers are charged for the water to be cleaned to optimum drinking standard, yet the water is wasted through leaks.”
The collapse of infrastructure has become most notable in eThekwini Metropolitan which has reported high levels of E.coli in most of its river systems. This is a result of wastewater treatment plants operating at partial capacity or not working at all, resulting in raw sewage being dumped directly into nearby waterways. The city closed its beaches, a major tourist hotspot, three times this year due to high E.coli levels. “This is another issue that is not just a KZN issue, but a countrywide challenge, as was reported in the Green Drop report 2022.”
In his assessment after one year at the helm of the Department of Water and Sanitation, Minister Senzo Mchunu mentions building private partnerships. However, said Adam, SA needs all sectors to be involved in the fight for the safety and security of our water resources. “A good start would be to understand the amount of water that is being lost in the country and to partner with civil society – not just business – to find the best solutions to the water challenges.”
Soundclip from Dr Ferrial Adam available here.