Water scarcity driving protests – study

2012-06-15 15:31

A lack of adequate and safe drinking water played a significant part in service delivery protests across the nation, the Water Research Commission said.

This emerged from a study it commissioned on “Social Water Scarcity and Water Use”.

“When government has not met expectations, citizens have responded by blaming government structures for non-delivery of services,” the commission said.

Researcher Nompumelelo Tapela investigated selected rural and urban case studies in North West, Western Cape and Limpopo provinces.

The study sought to deepen understanding of the links between water scarcity and societal expectations for service delivery.

In many cases, government officials responded by disengaging from citizen groups or shifting blame.

This gave rise to increasing frustration among citizens.

And in this way, a self-reinforcing cycle leading to poorer delivery was created.

Officials were even less likely to communicate with the public or cooperate with each other.

Public frustration increased as longstanding problems were not resolved.

This led to disregard for the law.

In some cases, there were violent protests against a system which people felt did not respect them.

In Sannieshof, North West, residents had no adequate access to water and water infrastructure had been neglected for years.

A particularly pressing issue for residents was the lack of a proper water and sanitation plan.

Unmanaged raw sewage had affected the area’s water quality since 2007.

Pelindaba residents relied on communal taps or stand pipes for water access.

Three taps serviced a population of more than 600 households.

One respondent pointed out that there were 10 communal taps but only two were functional.

All respondents agreed that they had experienced a water-point breakdown at some stage over the past year.

Khayelitsha in Western Cape had experienced exponential growth in population since 1986.

Only 30% of households had yard and in-house water and sanitation facilities and about 70% of households used communal taps or stand pipes for water supply.

They had inadequate or no access to sanitation.

A Khayelitsha resident of QQ section said: “The first thing is that we don’t have toilets. We defecate in buckets inside our shacks.

"It is completely unacceptable for an adult to be defecating inside living areas. The whole shack becomes smelly.”

Protests by Khayelitsha residents had no positive results.

This was due to the fluidity and lack of community organisation in informal settlements.

Residents of Muyexe village in Giyani, Limpopo also complained of water scarcity.

“How can a person survive without water? It is an essential source of life,” one respondent complained.

Women spent more time fetching water than men, and experienced waiting times extending well into the night.

“This exposed women to a range of risks to personal safety and security,” the report said, particularly with regard to livestock.

In some cases, water needs expressed by the community were not prioritised by municipalities.

There were also discrepancies between water use data at planning levels and data collected at a micro-level, the commission found.

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