Millions down the drain

2013-11-05 00:00

MILLIONS of rands are being lost by the eThekwini Metro every year due to poor management of water infrastructure.

Budget cuts, deteriorating infrastructure, slow decision making and water theft are to blame for the estimated R400 million loss incurred by the city in the 2012/13 financial year. It seems the situation is not getting any better.

Water losses have soared from 102 111 megalitres in 2011 to 109 221 megalitres, which could fill about 43 700 olympic-sized swimming pools, in 2012.

Ratepayers, who account for only 11% to 13% of the city’s population of three million residents, are picking up the bill with the water being purchased in bulk before reaching the consumer.

In 2011/12, the municipality bought 870 million litres a day, but only sold 561,9 million litres. The rest accounted as water loss and the municipality’s own use.

According to Neil Macleod, head of eThekwini’s Water and Sanitation (EWS), the city loses about R1,2 million a day at Umgeni Water’s cost price.

In the city’s 2013/14 Integrated Development plan released in June, it admitted that water losses were due mainly to “deterioration in the water reticulation system, water theft, budget cuts, and delays in the SCM processes”.

The report was clear that unless the expenditure on detecting leakages was increased, the losses would continue to increase.

Macleod said the city has embarked on a focused programme to identify and treat the loss.

In an attempt to deal with the problem, about 55 people have been employed to detect the leaks in Durban’s greater areas.

“These employees are being deployed to walk in wards and report leaks, sewer blockage and illegal connections. They have also been trained on our water policy document and are available to provide advice and assistance to our customers,” said Macleod.

He said leaks in the city have two main causes — failing infrastructure, such as aging AC water mains, and poor workmanship by those making illegal connections.

“These people often work at night and use substandard pipes and fittings which then fail, causing a waste of water.”

Lilian Develing of the Combined Ratepayers’ Association of Durban, said the municipality needed to get their act together because it was costing ratepayers.

She said people at the top are also looking out for their own interest and agenda and are not doing that much to fix the issue.

“They’ve known about the illegal connections a long time ago,” she added. “There are more wires floating around than on the back of the radio.”

The problems can be solved, it just needs the will of the council and ratepayers need to unite against illegal connections, she said.

“However, people who pay rates do not get together or protest but those who don’t, do so,” she concluded.

Rishi Singh of Clairwood Ratepayers’ Association said the only solution is for the council to build proper houses for people.

“That’s the only reason people are taking water or electricity illegally. What can they do? The local government needs to provide proper houses. Water is a human right,” Singh added.

He said R1,2 million a day was a lot of money for the council to pay and it was unfortunate that the “normal” ratepayers have to foot the bill.

Isipingo Ratepayers’ Association chairperson Shan Nowbuth said the municipality needed to act proactively.

“We do contact officials about illegal connections but no action gets taken by council. The council is aware but there is no resolution,” Nowbuth said, adding that the municipality has to revamp all the old water pipes.

He further complained that their utility bills were high and believed that some of the costs stem from illegal connections.

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