Access to water a human right that needs more focus
AS WE celebrate Human Rights month, we are called to reflect on the imperatives guaranteed in the Constitution of the Republic. One of these rights is the right of access to sufficient water as contained in Section 27 of the Constitution.
Equally so, Section 24 states that everyone has the right – (a) to an environment that is not harmful to their health or wellbeing; and (b) to have the environment protected for the benefit of present and future generations is of paramount importance.
To meet these basic rights, it is crucial that the three spheres of government, particularly the water and environmental sectors, up their game.
Since the dawn of democracy, local government has made strides in the provision of water and sanitation services, particularly to the unserved. Such has been realised through fiscal instruments such as the Municipal Infrastructure Grant (Capex) and Equitable share (Opex).
Reports by Stats SA indicates that access to basic water and sanitation has been on an upward trend, meaning that indigents and unserved are incrementally enjoying the provision of these services offered by municipalities.
Today, the above-mentioned fiscal instruments continue to be availed to municipalities to increase access to water, particularly to the unserved.
However, it is a known fact that in some municipalities, access to water has been unreliable and not up to standard. This fact is amplified by several institutions such as the South African Institute of Civil Engineering (SAICE), the SA Human Rights Commission and the Department of Water and Sanitation.
In the SAICE 2017 infrastructure report card, the provision of water is rated as C+ in urban areas denoting that budgeting and spending on maintenance, rehabilitation and expansion remain inadequate for water supply in all areas, among others.
And classifies all other areas as D – meaning that the quality and the reliability of water supply has decreased in small towns and rural systems.
We can confirm that these challenges are being observed unfolding in the majority of the 21 water services authorities, District Municipalities in North West, KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape, Limpopo and local municipalities in provinces such as Free State, Mpumalanga amongst others.
Financial management remains a grave concern. The Auditor-General has repeatedly raised corruption, fruitless and wasteful expenditure, lack of consequence management in municipalities as areas requiring major interventions.
These concerns are annually flagged, remains unresolved despite Council structures such as Audit and Municipal Public Accounts Committees being in place. Public Affairs Research Institute highlights the consequences of these unattended challenges as having dire consequences in the delivery of services.
In a quest to turn around the current situation, a number of interventions should be put in place. Firstly, national and provincial governments should up their game in relation to Section 154 of the supreme law of the country.
Supporting municipalities appropriately and monitoring as such is going to be pivotal to the success of municipalities in this current term of office.
It is encouraging to note that the Ministry of Water and Sanitation has positively responded to this call by leading initiatives of turning around the state of the water sector.
The ministry has already declared their suggested interventions, particularly at local government. However, these will need to be further discussed with relevant stakeholders. A good starting point was at the water summit.
In finding solutions to challenges faced by local government and developing common approaches, Salga, as a representative body of municipalities, has developed 13 support work packages that are deemed game-changers.
Interventions include supporting municipalities in their efforts to reduce non-revenue water, exposing municipalities to innovative solutions working in collaboration with our partners and stakeholders.
A clarion call to municipalities is to reflect on what can be done better learning from the last term. Encouraging inter-municipal cooperation as one of the key interventions in resolving common municipal challenges ought to be considered.
Emfuleni municipality is encountering major challenges, invoked with Sections 139 and 63 of the Constitution and the Water Services Act respectively despite being neighbours to relatively good performing municipalities such as Midvaal, Cities of Joburg, Tshwane and Ekurhuleni municipalities should be cause for concern. This kind of practice should be discouraged going forward.
The current cohorts of Councillors have one of the difficult tasks at hand. Tasks of turning around the above-mentioned challenges.
Secondly, to ensure sustaining the interventions including towards the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly goal six. These humongous tasks cannot be tackled by municipalities without the support of partners and stakeholders.