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Service Issue 81

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Service magazine addresses key issues related to government leadership and service delivery in South Africa.

S water Decay after

S water Decay after progress: South Africa’s basic water supply services Water is at the heart of health and wellbeing for people and nature. Access to it is a human rights issue recognised by international declarations and national standards. It is vital for education and economic productivity. Ultimately, it connects the environment to society. By Anja du Plessis* TThe most recent statistics (2020) show a general global trend of positive progress in access to water. The proportion of the global population using safely managed drinking water services increased from 70.2% in 2015 to 74.3% in 2020. But despite this progress, in 2020, two-billion people still lacked safely managed drinking water. The Sub-Saharan African region has the largest numbers, with 387-million people without access to basic drinking water services. Current coverage of access to regulated drinking water is estimated at only 54% of the region’s population. In South Africa, the right to water is enshrined in the Constitution. Before the country’s transition to democracy in 1994, government policies were focused on the advancement of the white minority. The development of the country’s water resources did not consider improving the position of the mostly black, poor majority. South Africa has made significant progress since then in expanding water services, especially within the disadvantaged, vulnerable communities and rural areas. But inequality in access to basic services is still a reality. Progress with water supply and sanitation service delivery has been slow and in some instances, it’s deteriorating. Water is a critical resource. Its provision should be seen as an enabler that facilitates socioeconomic development. Water infrastructure needs to be suitably maintained – and upgraded – to ensure water access and reliable supply to guarantee water security. development, improving the quantity and the quality of water supply to citizens. This created a comprehensive legislative framework for the provision of water and sanitation services. Progress was subsequently made by advancing and extending water supply to rural areas and previously under-serviced areas. During the first decade of democracy, an estimated 13.4-million more people had access to basic water supply services. WATER ACCESS REALITY South Africa’s water situation has since deteriorated. The reliability of water services and infrastructure – as shown by frequent water supply interruptions – has been on a downward trend. It’s important PROGRESS IN SOUTH AFRICA In 1994, about 14-million people (35%) in South Africa didn’t have basic water supply services. The minimum standard of these services is defined as clean, piped water delivered within 200 metres of a household at a minimum flow rate of 10 litres per minute, for 300 days a year, with any interruption not lasting longer than two days at a time. The government adopted various policies and programmes aimed at sustainable water Water infrastructure delivered versus vs water supply in 2021. Credit: National Integrated Water Information System. 22 | Service magazine

water S South Africa is facing the stark reality of a third of all its water infrastructure not being fully operational. Article courtesy The Conversation to note that even when communities have access to water through infrastructure, this does not guarantee the delivery of basic water supply services. The number of households with access to clean water grew from 67% in 1993 to an estimated 85% in 2015 and 96% in 2018. However, the portion of households with reliable and safe water supply services — such as having clean water sources not too far from their household — decreased by 64% in 2018. The deterioration of the country’s water infrastructure and actual delivery of reliable and safe water supply can be attributed to under-investment in infrastructure maintenance and delays in the renewal of old infrastructure. Other contributing factors include limited budgets, poor revenue management by local municipalities, misappropriation of funds, lack of capacity or necessary technical skills related to water services and sanitation operation and maintenance. South Africa is facing the stark reality of a third of all its water infrastructure not being fully operational, which is against the global trend of making positive progress. In addition, the government’s planned budget to rebuild deteriorated water infrastructure is already R333-billion short of the estimated R898- billion said to be required by the National Water and Sanitation Master Plan published in 2018. GOING FORWARD Based on my research in integrated water resource management, I propose that South Africa takes some of the following steps to avoid a major water crisis and improve water security. These recommendations are also in the country’s National Water Security Framework: • Address inefficient water use and wastage. • Investigate the possible impacts of climate change and what effect these may have on the country’s water resources. • Invest in infrastructure maintenance. • Correct inadequate management systems and record-keeping. • Develop and implement an institutional and regulatory framework and ensure compliance thereof. • Work on minimising the current skills deficit. The capacity of key national government departments and municipalities needs to be evaluated in an objective manner. South Africa must move away from simply constructing water supply systems to ensuring that the basic levels of service are provided to all. S * Anya du Plessis is an associate professor and research specialist in integrated water resource management at the University of South Africa. Service magazine | 23

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