No water in Joburg and no action either

No water in Joburg and no action either

We want Joburg Water to tell us what they’re doing about the water crisis, say OUTA’s WaterCAN and the Joburg Water Crisis Committee

Image: WaterCAN/Shutterstock

WaterCAN and the Johannesburg Water Crisis Committee (JWCC) believe that the City of Johannesburg’s water entity, Johannesburg Water, is not addressing the water crisis with the urgency it requires and is not keeping the public informed.

WaterCAN is an initiative of the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse. The JWCC is made up of residents concerned about the water situation, which has resulted in water outages in Johannesburg that have lasted for weeks.

WaterCAN and JWCC want Joburg Water to hold regular public meetings to explain what the challenges are and how these are being addressed. We call on residents and businesses to show their frustration with Joburg Water and the City of Johannesburg by putting up posters on their fences, gates and business windows. The authorities have largely blamed the water crisis on disruptions caused by load shedding.

“WaterCAN believes that these water outages are more about poor planning and lack of infrastructure maintenance than loadshedding. In addition, there is complete lack of urgency to address these issues,” says Dr Ferrial Adam, manager of WaterCAN.

Loadshedding is not new, but the City authorities are behaving as though it is. They have had years to find solutions for essential infrastructure.

The National Treasury rule is that a municipality should spend 8% of the value of the infrastructure each year on maintaining it. Joburg Water’s annual report for 2020/21 (the latest available as the 2022 report is late) lists the value of property, plant and equipment as R13 billion. Thus an 8% maintenance budget would be about R1bn. Joburg Water’s budget does not specify a maintenance budget, but in 2020/2021 spent R124 million on “contractors maintenance service” and R44m on “Store issues and direct material purchases”. The capital expenditure spending on new infrastructure and upgrading existing infrastructure for that year was R932 million but this was all on dams and reservoirs, reticulation and sewerage purification, with spending on water and sanitation infrastructure listed as absent.

“We are concerned that Joburg Water has not only missed the legal deadline to release the annual report for 2021/22, but it seems to have had zero spending on water and sanitation infrastructure in 2021. Joburg Water needs to account for what plans are in place to ensure that there is back up power and generators to ensure residents have water. We are calling for Joburg Water to attend a public meeting to engage on the budget and spending and to share what plans are in place for back power and generators,” says Adam.

WaterCAN is also concerned that Joburg Water’s annual report notes that 40% of the water is lost as non-revenue water (unbilled, theft and leaks), that it says there is about 20.4 billion in infrastructure backlogs due to underfunding, but that it records an accumulated surplus of R11.013 billion and appears to have written off R2.661 billion in “impaired debt”.

“The water crisis has a profound impact on residents’ health, hygiene and well-being, and it is unacceptable that we have been forced to endure such harsh conditions for so long. All residents deserve access to basic necessities such as clean water, and it is Joburg Water’s responsibility to ensure that this is provided,” says Adam.

“We will not be silenced, and we will not give up until this crisis is resolved. Our voices will be heard, and we demand that action be taken to ensure that the water crisis in Johannesburg is brought to an end. We stand together, united in our commitment to finding a solution and in our demand for a brighter and more secure future for all.”

“A public meeting is needed to avoid confusion,” says Jairaj Chetty, a member of the JWCC.

“We implore you, City of Johannesburg, to act with urgency to resolve this devastating water crisis. The people of this city desperately need your leadership and commitment to invest in the infrastructure and maintenance that will safeguard us from future water outages. We deserve nothing less than access to clean and safe drinking water. Our families, our health, and our communities depend on it,” says Chetty.

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