Deteriorating water quality, wastewater management a crisis, says Human Rights Commission

8th December 2023

By: Natasha Odendaal

Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor


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The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) says that the rate and extent of the combined decline of South Africa’s water resource management and distribution indicates a state of “creeping crisis”.

This followed the publication earlier this week of the Department of Water and Sanitation’s (DWS’s) latest full Blue and No Drop reports, along with the Green Drop progress assessment report, which showed the deterioration of South Africa’s drinking water quality, the state of water loss and nonrevenue water, and municipal wastewater treatment performance, respectively.

The three reports, which are regulatory tools aimed at providing credible information and data on the state of water and sanitation services in the country, supported previous conclusions of the commission.

The SAHRC, which lamented the serious decline in the quality of drinking water, pointed out that access to sufficient and clean water is a human right in terms of the Constitution and legislation such as the Water Services Act 108 of 1997.

Municipalities, particularly those that are water services authorities (WSAs) are at the centre of the task of water and sanitation provision; however, the increase in nonrevenue water indicates that WSAs are not paying sufficient attention to the maintenance of infrastructure.

This is a concern which the commission has raised in several of its investigative reports, including the water inquiry report into KwaZulu-Natal, the SAHRC said in a statement.

“The National Treasury has recommended that municipalities must budget for maintenance and repair a yearly sum equivalent to 8% of the carrying value of property, plants and equipment and investment property. Current practice within municipalities averages between 2% to 4%,” it continued.

Further, the critical state of some of the wastewater treatment works (WWTWs) inexorably affects the right to human dignity of the people of South Africa, as these WWTWs are at risk of discharging partially treated or untreated water into rivers and the environment.

“The commission reiterates what it observed in its Vaal inquiry report, that wastewater systems play an integral part in the lives of people. In that regard, the commission stresses the importance of government adopting proactive interventions for the maintenance, repair and replacement of wastewater systems.”

The SAHRC called on government to “do all that is necessary” to arrest and turn around this decline in water quality and wastewater management at the municipal level.

“As indicated in the several reports of the commission, the DWS, as the national regulator, should continue to play a heightened monitoring and compliance role to ensure the effective performance of WSAs in the delivery of quality water, functional wastewater management and reduction of nonrevenue water,” the SAHRC said.

“Other stakeholders, such as the Municipal Infrastructure Support Agency and the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, should continue to provide support to municipalities to ensure that they are fully equipped and capacitated to deliver on their constitutional and statutory obligations. Consequence management systems to strengthen accountability must be established and used without fear and favour, to the benefit of the water services ecosystem.”

Edited by Creamer Media Reporter



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