The national network of community-based and non- governmental organisation the South African Water Caucus (SAWC) notes that it is concerned about the budget cut for water and sanitation at a time when South Africa is experiencing a crippling drought and the water and sanitation infrastructure countrywide is in a bad state of repair.
This comes after Water and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane delivered a speech to Parliament announcing the proposed budget for water and sanitation in the 2016/17 financial year in May. Following her speech and debate on her proposed budget, a budget roughly 3.2% smaller than the budget for the 2015/16, was approved by a majority of the members of Parliament in attendance.
“We feel that a greater budget is necessary for drought mitigation, urgent interventions in municipalities facing water and sanitation problems and the appointment of staff to enforce water laws in South Africa,” says the organisation.
The Minister listed some of the achievements of government over the past two decades, relating particularly to the broadening of access to water and the provision of sanitation services. The SAWC recognises those achievements and welcomes the Minister’s pledge to ensure that these achievements are built on in the current financial year.
However, the organisation notes that the Minister failed to specify any of the challenges faced by the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) in performing its mandate. The SAWC believes that being forthright about the DWS’s challenges during a Budget Speech will not only assist to justify the allocation of funds to its various programmes, it will also create a platform for constructive engagement with civil society.
Proposed Drought Mitigation Measures
The SAWC notes with concern that one of the medium-to long-term solutions for future drought mitigation is the construction and operation of desalination plants. Given that desalination requires large amounts of energy thereby contributing to climate change, it should only be considered as a last resort.
The organisation adds that preference should be given to measures to protect existing water resources through, for instance, better management of important catchment areas, the maintenance of water and sanitation infrastructure, water conservation initiatives that advance social justice, and rainwater harvesting.
Further, desalination plants that were constructed in the past, such as the desalination plants built in Plettenburg Bay, Mossel Bay and Sedgefield during the Southern Cape drought in 2009, are no longer operational. Government should avoid sunk costs associated with infrastructure investment, especially when there are other options available.
The project undertaken by the DWS to support poor farmers by giving them access to rainwater harvesting facilities is welcomed. The SAWC’s call on the DWS to roll out rainwater harvesting programmes more widely, in collaboration with food-growers and civil society organisations.
Additionally, the delays in the completion and the escalating costs of key water and sanitation infrastructure projects in South Africa is of great concern to the SAWC. The organisation indicates that better planning around infrastructure projects will ensure timeous completion of projects and avoid escalating costs of projects.
The planning process should involve choosing essential and sustainable water and sanitation infrastructure projects over projects that are unsustainable, such as the construction of the Mzimvubu dam. The SAWC reiterates that better management of water catchment areas, for instance, will ensure the availability of more water, obviating the need for more dams.
Blue Drop and Green Drop Certification
The Deputy Minister mentioned in her speech that the quality of drinking water and the management of wastewater have improved significantly, and that most municipalities are now participants in Blue and Green Drop assessments. The SAWC calls for a revitalising of the Blue Drop and Green Drop processes, and improvements in reporting – the results of the Blue Drop and Green Drop reports have not been made available to the public since 2014.
The SAWC also calls for the proper allocation of funding for fixing the wastewater treatment works. The Minister has overlooked the critical link between human health and wastewater management, at a time when diarrheal disease is the third-biggest killer in South Africa, and the leading cause of death for children under five.