A water tank in every garden

2010-07-23 00:00

IN KwaZulu-Natal, as in other provinces, district municipalities enjoy the status of Water Service Authority (WSA) in terms of legislation. This means that they have the mandate to deal with and manage bulk-water supply. It is not surprising to see that all WSAs have committed the bulk of the Municipal Infrastructure Grant (MIG) funding to water projects. All turnaround strategies for municipalities in KwaZulu-Natal have prioritised the improvement of access to water and sanitation.

Water and sanitation are critical to basic health, prevention of infant mortality, sustainable development and all other factors associated with human development in the long term. The budget items in the municipalities’ 2010/2011 allocation accordingly show commitment to storage dams, refurbishment of water works and putting into operation hundreds of water schemes of different sizes across KwaZulu-Natal.

It is not easy to calculate the exact costs of bulk-water management. The billions of rands committed to infrastructure development constitute one component of the costs. The second component is linked to operation and maintenance which often require high-level technical skills. The third component relates to environmental factors and it includes opportunity costs considerations. The provision of bulk water and sanitation infrastructure is one of the highest cost centres.

Our province wants to reduce drastically the number of households without access to piped water. We would all like to have 100% of households with access to reliable piped water and hygienic sanitation. There is therefore an understandably high level of expectation that as we approach the end of the second decade of the new dispensation we cannot have households that share water sources with livestock and use unhygienic pit latrines.

The reality is that water is a scarce resource. The natural programme of water generated over millions of years does not have our bulk infrastructure on its list of priorities. Water is obtained from natural sources, it moves according to certain patterns and is purified through natural processes. The swamps and the meandering rivers are some examples of partnerships that connive with water sources not only to provide water but to purify it. Unfortunately, we continue to destroy the natural partnerships that are required to function and to provide water to our expensive bulk infrastructure.

We need to accept that there is a component of sustainability which refers to the consumer’s ability not to consume more water than is required and to harvest it in a manner that respects the natural requirements of the resource production and replenishment processes.

The catchments management programme and the infrastructure development programme can benefit from any kind of positive change in the demand for water as a resource. The high, middle and low-income settlements continue to demonstrate an attitude to water consumption that is not compatible with long-term sustainability.

We seem to have developed an attitude that we shall consume water regardless of the costs. There is clearly no relationship in our thinking between quantity consumed, costs of supply and the ability of supply factors to provide water continuously not only to us but to future generations.

Attitudes are complex and difficult to address; however, we can deal with behaviour modification. There is no reason rain- water harvesting by urban and rural communities cannot be reintroduced. It does not make sense to have long queues of homeowners waiting to pay or to complain about exorbitant water bills when the same homeowners allow hundreds of free kilolitres of rain water to flow off their roofs without any attempt to harvest some for usage.

The public, private and civil society partnerships must rise to the occasion and design programmes to bring about attitude and behaviour changes. We need to invest in this programme. There is a need for a focused awareness programme in the first instance and a robust educational programme in the medium to long term. Such an approach will lead to the sustainability of water and sanitation supply for current and future generations. We have a mammoth task to take care of this precious natural resource — water, which is our life blood.

• Mtholephi Mthimkhulu is deputy speaker — KZN Legislature, former KZN MEC for Agriculture, Environmental Affairs and Rural Development. He writes in his personal capacity.

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