Rich paying too little for water, says WWF

2013-10-09 10:03
Water supply is a critical issue in SA. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

Water supply is a critical issue in SA. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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Cape Town - The cost of water is unevenly distributed in South Africa as the wealthy pay far less for quality water than they should, an environmental organisation has said.

"The rich are, for the volumes they're consuming, paying relatively little for very reliable drinking quality water, and meanwhile the poor are paying an inordinate cost, either in cash terms, or in labour terms or in terms of the burden of disease that they're bearing linked to that... for poor amounts and poor quality water," hydrogeologist Christine Colvin, senior manager of fresh water programmes at the WWF SA told News24.

South African tap water is widely recognised to be of an acceptable drinking standard, but the picture of quality drinking water is not uniform across the country.

"Although the vast majority of our tap water is good to drink especially in the urban areas of South Africa, in the rural areas or in some of the informal areas we have very shaky water service delivery," said Colvin.

Vandalism and theft have, in some areas caused losses to the water network and municipalities that are cash-strapped struggle to fund repairs or do preventative maintenance.


"Municipalities are incurring loss of revenue through unaccounted for water exacerbated by leaking pipes and taps. Water leaks are a major cause of concern that if not arrested timeously it might lead to disaster," deputy water minister Rejoice Mabudafhasi said in April during a visit to the Kareeberg local municipality in the Northern Cape province.

There are also problems of losses in some regions as non-revenue water losses play a significant role in municipal losses.


Non-revenue water losses are defined as water that is lost through physical leakage or commercial losses. This may include unbilled consumption such as fire fighting as well theft of water supplies.

According the Water Wheel report by the Water Research Commission, large urban metros had non-revenue losses of 34.3% while small, often rural, municipalities had losses of as much as 72.5%.

Rural areas are particularly hard hit when communities' water supplies are interrupted.

"In the rural areas, there's a completely different level of service. Many people who are reliant on rural schemes when the borehole breaks and when the pumps breaks down, they then have to rely on tankers coming in and providing them with drinking quality water. And that can start becoming hugely unreliable," said Colvin.

She argued that water in SA was undervalued and that the country needed to urgently examine means of researching the use of grey water alternatives for domestic consumption.


"At the moment we're definitely undervaluing water and the example of just flushing drinking water down your toilet - it is a crazy system."

According to the draft National Water Resource Strategy, SA will require up to R670bn to beef up its entire water sector over the next 10 years, and there is a funding gap of R338bn.

Colvin said that it is likely that the cost to consumers of water would increase significantly as the country ensured the provision of supply.

"I think there's a universal awareness of the scarcity of water and we will see a price and a tariff revision - so it's not only going to be scarce, it's going to become more expensive as well."

"In South Africa, water demand is expected to rise by 52% within the next 30 years while the supply of water is sharply declining. If current trends of leakage from aged and poorly maintained municipal infrastructure and the loss of wetlands persist, this growth in demand will intensify competition for water resources across all sectors of the economy," said Brand South Africa on the SA info website.

Colvin though, said that unless there were deliberate policy changes, it would be the poor who would be most affected by any revision of the cost of water.

"The people who are paying too much for water are the rural poor who have to stand in a line and wait for the tanker to come and then still get charged often - whether it's officially or unofficially - for receiving drinking quality water."

- Follow Duncan on Twitter
Read more on:    wwf  |  environment  |  water

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