Three separate audit reports have laid bare how one of the country’s most precious resources is being fouled by sewage and other effluents, wasted through pipe leakages or non-payment, and, in several areas, not treated to safe drinking standards.
The good news is that tap water in most of South Africa’s big cities is still rated as “safe” to drink (albeit declining) – but the same cannot be said for municipal water supplies in large swathes of the country.
According to the latest Blue Drop report published on Tuesday, 5 December, “it was not microbiologically safe to drink the water in almost half (46%) of our drinking water systems at times during 2022 when the Blue Drop audit was done” – increasing the risk of life-threatening water-borne diseases such as cholera and chronic diarrhea.
On a national basis, close to half (47%) of municipal tap water is now classified as non-revenue water (NRW) due to leaking pipes, wonky or non-existent water meters, illegal connections, and poor billing and revenue collection – way above the international average of 30% for non-revenue water.
In some cities, the waste or non-payment rate is much higher – with no funds recovered for 58% of the water supplied to eThekwini.
At a provincial level, KwaZulu-Natal has the highest rate of non-revenue water waste (60.5%), followed by the Free State (59.5%), Limpopo (nearly 58%) – while the Western Cape had the lowest rate (about 27%).
Nearly two-thirds (64%) of the country’s sewage and wastewater treatment works are also at “high or critical risk” of discharging partially treated or untreated water into rivers and the environment.
The three reports (Blue Drop, No Drop, and the Green Drop progress report) were published Tuesday by Water and Sanitation Minister Senzo Mchunu, who acknowledged the need for “fundamental reform” to arrest the decline in municipal water and sanitation services.
To his credit, Mchunu resuscitated the three water auditing schemes last year after they were dumped by former water minister Nomvula Mokonyane in 2014 to avoid political embarrassment.
Significantly, the latest Blue Drop report includes a prominent quote from the American writer and philosopher, Elbert Hubbard, who proclaimed: “The final proof of greatness lies in being able to endure criticism without resentment.”
Lamenting the poor results, the director-general of the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS), Dr. Sean Phillips, further acknowledged and spelled out some of the more obvious consequences of scarce water supplies going down the drain, during a formal presentation at Emperor’s Palace in Johannesburg.
Read the full article on Daily Maverick here.