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Faults in SA's water, sanitation policy

27th November 2008

By: Sapa


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There are faults in South Africa's water and sanitation policy and how it is put into effect, according to a report released by Wits University researchers on Wednesday.

"During the research, many municipalities cited a fundamental lack of capacity, both financial and technical as a major problem," according to a statement issued by the university that accompanied the report's release.

The national government devolved the responsibility of water services delivery to local governments in 2000.

"It has since steadily decreased financial and technical support. This means that municipalities have to do more with less money."

The research was carried out by the Wits Centre for Applied Legal Studies (Cals), the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (Cohre) and the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights (NCHR) on 15 municipalities across the country, between November 2007 and July 2008.

Cals researcher Jackie Dugard was quoted as saying: "South Africa has one of the most progressive legislative and policy frameworks for water services in the world.

"However, when it comes to implementation at the local government level, where actual water services provision is located, the reality is quite different."

According to the report, entitled Water Services Fault Lines, there was a wide variance of policies across the 15 municipalities. Many were inconsistent with national guidelines from the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (Dwaf).

"It was astonishing to see the difference in water prices for minimal levels of consumption -- some municipalities were charging four times more than others..." Malcolm Langford from the NCHR was quoted as saying.

According to the Dwaf website backlogs in water would only be eliminated in 2011, those in sanitation in 2031.

The report also found significant problems with the application of the free basic water policy. According to Dwaf guidelines a person was entitled to a minimum of 50 litres of water per day.

"[T]he effects of the absence of a national free basic sanitation policy is glaring. The poor were often heavily under-represented on indigent registers which are used to determine who receives the allocation."

This was compounded by the use of harsh credit control measures against poor as opposed to wealthy customers.

"Many municipalities are swimming against the international tide as a growing number of countries outlaw or heavily regulate disconnections of water and provide alternative solutions."

According to the report only one municipality out of the 15 took a decidedly different approach and threatened only large users, not the poor, with disconnection.

The report recommended that greater financial and technical support be provided to municipalities.

"This is especially needed for poor municipalities that are under-spending and not reducing their backlogs quickly enough, and those which have limited potential to raise internal revenue through cross-subsidisation by rich water users."

The report also recommended that efforts to eradicate all backlogs and advance service levels, including finalising and putting into effect the free basic sanitation policy, be prioritised.

"We recommend a national regulation of credit control practices to ensure fair enforcement between different classes of water users, including the establishment of pro-poor policies on disconnection."

Pre-paid water meters and other pernicious water restriction devices in poor communities should be prohibited, the report indicated. It also  called for more effective national regulation and local monitoring of water quality control.



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