This week the SA Local Government Association (Salga) is in the news as it tries to tackle water problems.
Indeed it is at local government level that water is delivered to consumers. With 283 different authorities, the delivery record is at best patchy. Many municipalities have no relevant engineers, and it shows.
For example, Bloemhof made headlines earlier this month after the deaths of three babies due to contaminated water. The municipal manager has resigned after being suspended. Competence certainly is an issue, with some municipalities losing up to third of their water supply due to leakages.
Salga, with a seeming emphasis on formalistic bureaucracy, uses a 10-point checklist to help municipalities benchmark their performance in water delivery. It’s all about “performance indicators” and similar jargon.
Nowhere is there any mention of making sure that properly qualified people are appointed. That is a concern, not only for efficient delivery. It is also, as in the Bloemhof example, a matter of life and death.
One of Salga’s proposals is that those consumers who pay for water will no longer get the first 6000 litres free. This has far-reaching implications for households battling on tight budgets as the economy shrinks. Of course non-payers will still get free water. There is an inherent flaw if there is no incentive for non-payers to use less water.
Water Research Commission chief executive Dhesigen Naidoo told Salga that, “water scarcity does not equal a crisis”.
However, we argue that if current patterns continue, a water crisis looms. Qualified people must be in charge of delivery, and responsible use of water must become part of the lifestyle of every South African, rich and poor.