Dirty water for many parts of SA

2011-03-26 18:38

More than one third of 231 ­local municipalities do not have the capacity to perform their ­sanitation functions, a new study by the Council for ­Scientific and Industrial ­Research (CSIR) has found.

The report, discussed at a United Nations water ­conference in Cape Town this week, includes a comprehensive survey of South Africa’s levels of water pollution.

It also tracks access to clean, safe water and sanitation. And it warns that South Africa is heading for ­disaster unless it tackles the problem of water pollution, ­including its failing sewage treatment ­systems.

It found that the situation was so bad, it called for waste-water facilities that did not comply with their licences to be prosecuted.

Water quality, the report ­stated, was excellent in metropolitan areas, but in many rural areas and towns, drinking water quality and waste-water effluent quality were frequently below the standards set.

In some areas, short-sighted planning resulted in bucket eradication schemes causing deterioration instead of ­improvement in the provision of sanitation.

In some Free State settlements the replacement of buckets with waterborne systems left residents with no sanitation at all. The water supply was insufficient to flush toilets.

In other places, large ­increases in sewage inflow ­volume led to overloading of waste-water treatment works and pollution of downstream river systems.

The estimated current ­replacement cost of municipal water services stock, according to the report, is R169 billion (R103 billion for water and R66 billion for sanitation).

Much of this infrastructure “is not in a fit state to continue delivering high-quality and ­reliable water services”.

The widely held belief in South Africa was that water service “backlogs” concerned those who did not have access to services in the past.

Yet other needs “far surpass” these, the report said. This ­included the rehabilitation, ­replacement or provision of ­neglected sanitation infrastructure.

The capital required to ­address infrastructure backlogs made up 17% of total infrastructure requirements, the ­report stated. By comparison, the rehabilitation or replacement of neglected infrastructure ran to “a staggering 49%”.

The failure of many ­municipalities to deliver reliable sanitation services was mainly due to poor leadership and ­inadequate budgets, skills and experience.
 
Many health problems were the direct result of the collapse of existing sanitation systems. Untreated, polluted drinking water was a major contributor to diarrhoea-related deaths and diseases, the report said.

Johan Erasmus, operational manager of Mahlatsi Enterprises, a firm contracted by the ­Department of Water Affairs to monitor water purification plants in Mpumalanga, warned that many of them were in a ­“disastrous” state.

These municipalities, he said, never took seriously their duty to deliver clean water and proper ­sanitation to people.

“They never budgeted money for this; not for maintenance and also not for new plants. In many cases we discovered that the town manager had not even purchased the chemicals ­needed for their water ­purification plants.”

He added that very few of the water and/or water purification plant officials he had to deal with had the qualifications or the experience to do their jobs properly.

“None of the water ­purification plants was up to standard because the personnel were not up to standard.”

The result, he said, was ­“horrifying” – raw sewage ­running down the streets of small towns like Evander. Bethal’s water, he said, was so bad that farmers could not use it for irrigation.

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