SOUTH AFRICA: STRUGGLING TO PROVIDE SAFE DRINKING WATER TO THE POOR
South Africa is a country in transition. Although apartheid ended a decade ago, its legacy of poverty and inequality lives on. While white South Africa’s standard of living is on par with the developed world, black South Africa more closely resembles the rest of the continent – poor and without services. Electricity, running water and modern sanitation are in almost every home in white South Africa, while only a quarter of black South African households have such basic amenities.
12 MILLION PEOPLE WITHOUT SAFE DRINKING WATER
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Mike Muller, Director General of Water Affairs and Forestry: We were looking at 12 million people in South Africa who didn’t have access to any kind of safe water in 1994. We’re talking about nearly 20 million who didn’t have any kind of sanitation. And we said that the focus would be on people who had nothing. We had a slogan, ‘Some for all, not all for some,’ and that was really what drove us, particularly the 12 million without access to safe water.
Compounding the problem was something that plagues the entire
African continent: a scarcity of water. There are only 30 countries out
of 180 in the world that have less water per person than South Africa.
Since the early 1990s when The World Bank re-initiated its relationship with South Africa, the institution has seen the country as a place to develop its position as “knowledge bank.” South Africa has only received two small loans from The World Bank since 1994, however, the bank has played a significant role as advisor, providing technical assistance and policy advice throughout its transition from apartheid to democracy. In the early nineties, the bank helped South Africa quantify the costs of improving infrastructure. When the country was faced with the enormous expense of bringing water and sanitation to millions, The World Bank advocated for greater private sector involvement.
Mike Muller: We were being visited ten times a year by international agencies, not coming to ask us ‘how do you want help to run water,’ but, ‘we will show you how to use the private sector to provide water.
The South African government has experimented with private delivery of water in a small handful of concessions around the country. Ninety-seven per cent of the country’s water utilities are still publicly operated, as pointed out by Minister of Water and Forestry, Ronnie Kasrils, in his address to the African Investment Forum on the Involvement of the Private Sector in Water and Sanitation in April, 2003.
Ronnie Kasrils: The private sector has played and will continue to play an important role in both water resources and water services. The challenges facing us are simply too big to be addressed by government alone. … The government will always retain responsibility for ensuring that there is adequate water services provision. The vast majority of water services providers are expected to remain in the hands of public utilities.
NELSPRUIT: EXPANDING THE WATER NETWORK
Martin Nizsse, local manager of the private utility: There’s definitely a water shortage. And that’s a global problem. And I think with the water shortage, you have to manage it properly. And the market mechanism is normally a way of managing these shortages to provide people a good service.
PAYING FOR CLEAN DRINKING WATER
Henry Nkuna was a freedom fighter who now fights the water
Local manager Martin Nizsse hadn’t anticipated the
Linden MacIntyre: What
will you do when they make you pay for water?
In the township where Khoza lives, Kanyamazane, only 20% of water customers are paying their bills.
PRIVATE WATER BAILOUT
The company has resorted to a drastic measure to encourage
people to pay their water bills – repossessing their homes.
Anna Xaba: I don’t have that kind of money and there is no way I can get that kind of money. From the time I was born I haven’t bought water. We used to get water everywhere to drink. I can’t understand why these people are selling water to us. Do they make the water?
Martin Nizsse is unsympathetic.
Martin Nizsse: I think the real message for these people is that they shouldn’t let it come so far that they go so far in arrears. They have to learn that they have to save water to make sure that there is water available for everyone and that the water they use, they can afford that.
Patrick Bond is a political economist at the University of Witwatersand in Johannesburg.
Patrick Bond: You can attribute most of the non payment to people's inability to pay. Not a lack of desire to pay as is often claimed. African, black people have lost nineteen percent of their income since 1994. The government statistics show white's have increased their income by fifteen percent. People are just too poor to pay.
JOHANNESBURG: PRE-PAID METERS
In an effort to keep bills paid and reduce water losses, the company has installed pre-paid water meters in some Johannesburg neighbourhoods. A pre-paid water meter is a water pump that is activated by a pre-paid card. People must pay in advance for what they use.
Mike Muller, Director General of Water
Affairs and Forestry: One great benefit is
that people don’t have to put up with the administration, the paperwork
of bills. It’s nice and predictable. You know how much you are paying.
RECOVERING THE COST OF CLEAN WATER
In the late 1990s, local governments across South Africa were encouraged to practice more rigorous financial management and cost recovery. A local water board, which had taken over responsibility for water service in the Madlebe area, was given the task of installing prepaid meters. This included converting the nine communal water taps.
Between 1997 and 2000 prepaid meters were installed throughout the area. The water board saw the taps as a way to prevent arrears and improve their cash flow. The local authorities argued that cost recovery was necessary in this area because of the absence of industry or wealthy households that could subsidize water delivery to the poor.
A CHOLERA OUTBREAK
The areas previously served by the communal taps were part
of the first areas hit with cholera. The deadly disease, which causes
severe diarrhea and dehydration that, untreated, leads to death, spread
like wildfire. The first cases were reported in August 2000. By December
2000 the number of victims was in the thousands. By the time the outbreak
was contained, 120,000 people were infected with cholera and 265 had died.
NEW "FREE WATER" POLICY
the fifth estate: DEAD
IN THE WATER