Water, Sewage & Effluent May-June 2017 - Page 24

Household water security: the real challenge and a pragmatic solution In more than two decades of democracy, South Africa has made huge strides in water services provision. By Dr Tally Palmer, director Institute for Water Research and specialist researcher at Unilever Centre for Environmental Water Quality, Rhodes University. D espite the public messages of dissatisfaction through ongoing protests, many people have much better access to water in their homes than before. In addition, and in certain instances, the public also has access to water from standpipes and by sharing neighbours’ taps.  When looking at specific provinces like the Eastern Cape to examine primary sources of water in Nomathamsanqa, for example, the following is outlined:   Nomathamsanqa primary source Household categories Tap in the house RDP Formal township Informal All categories (mean %) 17% 30% 0% 16% Community Neigh- standpipe bour’s gar- den tap 14% 70% 10% 0% 13% 67% 12% 46% Tap in the garden 0% 60% 20% 27%   The primary sources of water in Vukani, Eastern Cape: Household category RDP Tap in the house 58% Own water tank Tap in the garden 1% 41%   These results show a variation in the extent of primary water sources available to households, with the Vukani residents having near universal access (99%) to taps in or near the household. The figure in Nomathamsanqa was far lower for informal settlement residents who were reliant on a neighbour’s garden tap. With that said, does that mean we can ignore public protests? Ignore the people struggling desperately to care for the elderly in homes without water for days and weeks at a time? Ignore the moms with children who miss days of school because of diarrhoeal disease? Ignore the women who still move household water by hippo-roller, wheelbarrows or on their heads? Definitely not. Our research shows clearly that, in South Africa, smaller municipalities struggle most with reliable household water supply. There are many reasons for this 22 Water Sewage & Effluent May/June 2017 and it seems that as soon as one cause is addressed, another kicks in and the taps remain dry. Some of these causes are well known. I have examined more specifically the challenges behind the interrupted water supply in the community of Sundays River Valley Local Municipality in the Eastern Cape: • Historically, water infrastructure focused on irrigation for an export orange industry, which is still thriving. There are canals, pipes, and established farmers who ‘order’ their water according to a careful schedule, which is then released for their use. Following the advent of a democratic South Africa, the irrigation water supply and infrastructure were meant to refocus and actively cooperate with local municipalities to supply the entire population with a reliable water supply. This highlighted that there was not enough water storage infrastructure in the town for any ‘spare’ water supply. Following which, if the town failed to ‘order’ its water in good time, water in the town reservoir would run out and supply would cease. This resulted in pumps drying out and, therefore, failing to work. • Overall, the challenges led to a poor relationship between the irrigation suppliers and the municipality, and little communication from either party. To solve the challenges, irrigation staff needed to then work overtime and be compensated as such. • Levels of poverty and unemployment are high in the region. Despite the benefits of the local citrus industry, a challenge arose where citrus farmers opted to use labour brokers to bring in seasonal labour during peak periods, rather than to negotiate employment with the local community. • Looking at the financial challenges, income to the municipality was low and procurement processes were complex and demanding. People who qualified for free basic water did not register. People with some income often failed to pay for services. In addition, funds from the municipal infrastructure grant were not easily ring- fenced to address water challenges.