Urgent action required against errant water service providers, says WaterCAN
The Blue, Green and No drop reports show that water service providers do not care about the quality or quantity of water they provide or whether people get ill
The extremely high level of failure of the country’s various water service authorities and water service providers to supply the national water department with timely data on the state of their water resources is precisely the type of inaction that will lead to water-borne disease outbreaks becoming endemic.
WaterCAN, an initiative of the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA), believes that if this high level of non-compliance is left unchecked, water-borne disease outbreaks, such as the deadly cholera outbreak in Hammanskraal and now reported in five provinces, will increase and possibly become endemic.
The Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) released the Blue Drop Watch, Green Drop Watch and the long-awaited No Drop Watch this week. The Green Drop Watch Report and the Blue Drop Watch Report are based on the 2022 Green Drop Report and the Blue Drop Assessment. The No Drop Watch Report is a new release.
The reports show the horrifying state of South Africa’s drinking water and sewerage systems and the apparent acceptance of this situation by water service authorities and water service providers. These are mostly municipalities but also include water boards.
“The statistics in these reports are not new, they do not give us an updated or informed view of any progress or decline. However, these reports are a way for the DWS to show its intent on compliance and highlight the extent of non-compliance by water service authorities. These reports emphasise the challenges we face as only 50% of non-compliant water service authorities reached out to DWS. The rest seem not to care that our water is not fit for human consumption,” says Dr Ferrial Adam, Executive Manager of WaterCAN.
For those municipalities which did not submit corrective action plans, the department has issued directives to 11 municipalities in terms of the National Water Act compelling them to submit these and laid criminal charges against seven municipalities in connection with drinking water systems and wastewater treatment works.
“WaterCAN welcomes the directives and the criminal charges against municipalities. But we want to see them go a little further: charge the people responsible, fire the people responsible, including municipal managers and mayors,” says Adam.
The Blue Drop report focuses on the current condition of drinking water infrastructure and treatment processes from a technical site assessment of 151 of more than 1000 water supply systems. This records widespread failure to comply with microbiological and chemical standards – 51% of water systems showing poor to bad microbiological water quality status and chemical compliance analyses show that 71% of plants fail to achieve chemical compliance.
The Green Drop report provides a picture of what has been done to address wastewater treatment systems that scored less than 30% in the 2022 Green Drop report. This report states that only 34 of the 168 systems that scored less than 30% in the 2022 report submitted corrective plans for improving wastewater treatment plant performance.
“How many people need to lose their lives because of municipalities’ lack of compliance? Sewage flowing into rivers and streams has an impact on people as we have seen in areas such as Hammanskraal,” says Adam.
The No Drop report states that 4.3 million m3/pa of water is being treated for municipal use but almost half – 2 million m3/pa – is being lost to non-revenue water which includes leaks, poor billing and lack of metering. This is a huge increase on the estimated 35% non-revenue water reported in the last No Drop report in 2015.
“Civil society has been saying for years that fixing leaks could reduce the water stress on our cities. It could be the first step to ensuring we have water-safe municipalities,” says Adam.
A soundclip with comment by WaterCAN Executive Manager Dr Ferrial Adam is here.