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‘It is a shame not to give water’

Officials have been appointed not to dwell on problems but to provide clean drinking water to communities, Water and Sanitation Minister Senzo Mchunu said at a summit in Midrand.

The national water and sanitation summit started Friday and will conclude on Saturday.

Residents of many municipalities were forced to get water from animal drinking streams, Mchunu said.

“It’s a sin not to give people water and instead listen to grievances while people queue and drink the same water as donkeys and cows drink…dirty water. There’s nothing bourgeois about that, we have to settle it in a fair way.

“We are engaged to provide services and that is what we are paid for, not to describe a problem. The president wouldn’t have appointed us to keep saying there’s no water and the infrastructure is leaking.

Outlining the state of the country’s water supply, Mchunu said municipalities lost up to 60% of water due to dysfunctional infrastructure, low budgets and poor skills.

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The average reported loss was 40%, while very few municipalities reported a lower water loss of 26%.

South Africa has 5 641 dams of which 323 are owned by the department. At least 86 are owned by other government departments such as agriculture and land reform. Water boards own 121 of the water dams.

The current arrangement between water entities and municipalities could be at the root of supply problems in the country, Mchunu said.

“The common practice over time is that entities are responsible for the bulk water supply, while the local government is responsible for cross-linking.

“That may explain the backlog we are experiencing, which has turned into a crisis, as it were. We have to get to work on that right away.”

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While it is difficult to ensure an adequate and consistent water supply, consumption in South Africa stands at 221 liters per capita per day, compared to the world average of 123 liters.

That meant demand for water in South Africa far outstripped supply, Mchunu said.

“We find that sometimes dams are full, but the taps are dry … we may have water in rivers and dams, but have water supplies in other streams that don’t reach the communities.”

On sanitation, the minister told deputies that the government does not have a national sanitation framework.

“We don’t have any norms and standards, which is why a lot goes into sanitation leading to leaks in tons across the country. What is unacceptable is that sewage is spilled everywhere – day and night you can smell it from your bedroom, even with the windows closed … that is unacceptable.”

Several provinces still use the bucket system. Free State led with 10,000 buckets, followed by Gqeberha in the Eastern Cape with 9,000. Northern Cape has 5,000.

“There is an unknown number of buckets in Mpumalanga and in Cape Town, Western Cape. We also have pit toilets, but pit toilets generally have color and class in the country, and are also geographical,” Mchunu said.

The third category in sanitation is communal toilets, mostly in informal settlements.

Some informal settlements, the minister said, seemed poised to become “permanent informal settlements” as they remained the same decades later.

“Human Settlement Minister Kubayi will be with us, but shouldn’t we try to make sure we don’t settle anywhere? It makes it difficult to render service… it remains a moving target that you can never overcome.”

Delegates break into committees and come up with solutions to water and sanitation problems.

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