One in five informal settlement residents has no access to water – study

Parts of the Setewetla Informal Settlement are pictured, 5 May 2020, as the MMC for Housing in the City of Joburg, Mlungisi Mabaso was visiting the area as well as transitional relocation areas for de-densification of Setewetla Informal Settlement. Picture Tracy Lee Stark

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

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.

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.

“The lack of oversight, lack of urgency in 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.

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.

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.

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.”

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.

Conditions in 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.”

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.

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