Covid-19: 1 in 5 informal settlement residents has no access to water, study reveals

2020-05-14 17:58
(Ian Waldie/Getty Images)

(Ian Waldie/Getty Images)

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A study conducted by #Asivikelane, a basic service delivery monitoring tool, has shone the spotlight on the daunting state of access to water and sanitation in informal settlements across the country, finding that one out of every five informal settlement residents does not have consistent access to water.

The study also found that only one out of every 10 residents receive soap or sanitiser from the government in Johannesburg and Mossel Bay.

Launched at the beginning of the lockdown, the study reveals the extent to which informal settlement residents are vulnerable to Covid-19.

READ | How will Covid-19 shape South Africa?

More than 400 households in 153 informal settlements answered four questions regarding their access to water and sanitation every week.

These questions were posed to settlements in certain metros across the country and centred around access to clean water, clean toilets, waste collection as well as whether the government had provided soap and hand sanitiser to the area in the last seven days.

The results have revealed a "shocking" shortfall.

READ | Covid-19: 600m project to ensure schools have water

"The lack of oversight, lack of urgency is responding to service delivery needs of people in informal settlements, and a poor manner in which the sanitation service in informal settlements was being coordinated by many Cities was shocking.

"Especially since the personnel was in place," said Nontando-Zintle Ngamlana, Afesis-corplan executive director, who was involved in the project.

"With communities that share basic services such as communal water taps, ablution facilities, etc, who mostly depended on their Cities and municipalities to facilitate such increased hygiene, we wanted to assess the extent to which this was happening," she added.

Access to water

The study said it was of concern that one out of every five residents did not have consistent access to water, with residents in Johannesburg, Cape Town and eThekwini also reporting water pressure problems, a lack of taps and poor maintenance of infrastructure.

Despite new initiatives, it was reported that only one out of every 10 residents received soap or sanitiser from government in Johannesburg and Mossel Bay, while refuse and toilet cleaning had not improved in the last two weeks.

Access to clean toilets

Based on the weekly questions, it was found that refuse removal and toilet cleaning had not improved since last week's assessment.

"It costs less than R90 to clean a communal toilet, a small price to pay for reducing infection amongst the most vulnerable," the study indicated.

READ | 138 officials guilty of wrongdoing at water and sanitation dept

There were also a lack of toilets and maintenance in Cape Town, Johannesburg and eThekwini.

"Lack of access to municipal provided sanitation remains a huge problem in some small towns. For example, most residents in informal settlements in eMalahleni use self-dug pit toilets."

Good news

The study noted some improvements in certain cities, like Buffalo City, which had received masks, gloves and sanitiser for many informal settlements.

Mossel Bay started to distribute personal protective equipment (PPE) and cleaning material to residents so that they could clean toilets themselves, while Somalia Park in Ekurhuleni, Tjovitjo and Westside Park in Johannesburg received JoJo tanks.

In Buffalo City and eThekwini, new toilets and taps were installed while broken ones were repaired in some areas.

Covid-19 impact

Conditions within informal settlements, including congestion and a sharing of facilities, while a problem that spans back to the "dawn of democracy", create an environment for Covid-19 to spread, according to Ngamlana.

"Informal settlements are undoubtedly high-risk communities for the spread of the virus. It is for this reason that attention has to be given to the manner in which Cities are responding to making these communities a little more resilient in the face of Covid-19. Asivikelane seeks to achieve just that."

READ | Western Cape proposes to move to Level 3 lockdown as soon as possible

She said that many municipalities had performed poorly when it came to the cleaning of toilets, even though people were employed to do this.

"But because these cities were not providing cleaning material for the recruited persons, nor had they given them the necessary inoculations, the persons were not performing the job for which they were receiving monthly stipends."

However, since the study started, the situation has improved, thanks to increased engagement with the Cities.

"Many Cities have fixed broken and leaking water taps and many have provided additional water tanks, etc, sustaining and maintaining the infrastructure provided is the challenge at hand currently and Asivikelane seeks to ensure that this is not just a momentary intervention, but is sustained even post Covid-19," Ngamlana said.

Read more on:    coronavirus  |  lockdown  |  service delivery

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