Ac­cess to qual­ity san­i­ta­tion is a ba­sic hu­man right

Spa­tial plan­ning legacy, cor­rup­tion and mal­ad­min­is­tra­tion have ex­ac­er­bated prob­lem

Pretoria News - - OPINION - COM­MENT AKINTUNDE AKINSETE Akinsete is a pro­ject man­ager at the Wa­ter Re­search Com­mis­sion.

THE UN de­fines hu­man rights as “rights in­her­ent to all hu­man be­ings, re­gard­less of race, sex, na­tion­al­ity, eth­nic­ity, lan­guage, reli­gion, or any other sta­tus”. The rights of all hu­mans ex­tend to the right to life and lib­erty, free­dom from slav­ery and tor­ture, free­dom of opin­ion and ex­pres­sion, the right to work and ed­u­ca­tion, and in South Africa, hu­man rights also ex­tend to the right of ac­cess to ba­sic wa­ter sup­ply and san­i­ta­tion.

This right was reinforced in the Groot­boom Con­sti­tu­tional Court case judg­ment of Oc­to­ber 4, 2000, when Sec­tion 26(1) of the Bill of Rights which states that “ev­ery­one has the right to have ac­cess to ad­e­quate hous­ing” was ex­tended to in­clude the pro­vi­sion of wa­ter and removal of sewage.

In cor­rob­o­ra­tion, Sec­tion 3 of the Wa­ter Ser­vices Act 108 of 1997 states that “ev­ery­one has a right of ac­cess to ba­sic wa­ter sup­ply and san­i­ta­tion” and the act de­fines ba­sic san­i­ta­tion as: “the pre­scribed min­i­mum stan­dard of ser­vices nec­es­sary for the safe, hy­gienic and ad­e­quate col­lec­tion, removal, dis­posal or pu­rifi­ca­tion of hu­man exc­reta, do­mes­tic wastew­a­ter and sewage from house­holds, in­clud­ing in­for­mal house­holds.”

How­ever, the right to san­i­ta­tion is not uni­ver­sally recog­nised, hence South Africa is one of the few na­tions glob­ally wherein the right to san­i­ta­tion is en­shrined in the Con­sti­tu­tion. While the UN , through the Mil­len­nial De­vel­op­men­tal Goals (MDGs) and its suc­ces­sor, the Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­men­tal Goals (SDGs), strove to drive the im­por­tance of san­i­ta­tion uni­ver­sally, many of the in­di­gent in poor coun­tries still lag be­hind their coun­ter­parts in de­vel­oped coun­tries in re­spect to ad­e­quate ba­sic san­i­ta­tion.

De­spite be­ing en­shrined in the Con­sti­tu­tion, ac­cess to im­proved san­i­ta­tion in South Africa is not af­forded to the en­tirety of the cit­i­zenry, es­pe­cially those who live in in­for­mal set­tle­ments. This is ev­i­dent from the in­ces­sant service de­liv­ery protests and the peren­nial in­ci­dents of fatal­i­ties of school chil­dren in di­lap­i­dated school ablu­tion fa­cil­i­ties. The poor state of san­i­ta­tion fa­cil­i­ties in peri-ur­ban and in­for­mal set­tle­ments owes a lot to the legacy of spa­tial plan­ning pre-1994 that re­sulted in a huge in­fra­struc­ture back­log.

The sit­u­a­tion has been fur­ther ex­ac­er­bated by cor­rup­tion and mal­ad­min­is­tra­tion of re­sources that has plagued the govern­ment since the demo­cratic dis­pen­sa­tion. Sadly, the re­cent eco­nomic woes have fur­ther di­min­ished govern­ment’s ca­pac­ity to ad­dress this prob­lem.

The cur­rent mu­nic­i­pal guide­lines and pro­cesses are also not well-suited to han­dle the sit­u­a­tion with mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties be­com­ing caught up in the tech­ni­cal definition of what con­sti­tutes an in­for­mal set­tle­ment and the im­pli­ca­tions of tran­si­tion­ing such set­tle­ments into for­mal ones.

There­fore, a large chunk of mu­nic­i­pal bud­get is spent pro­vid­ing ad hoc ser­vices such as truck­ing of potable wa­ter and pro­vi­sion of por­ta­ble chem­i­cal toi­lets to in­for­mal set­tle­ments. It is easy to bash mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties but given the state and ex­tent of the sit­u­a­tion, I would see the glass as be­ing half-full.

How­ever, the level of san­i­ta­tion service provided in these in­for­mal set­tle­ments falls far short of the Con­sti­tu­tional man­date.

The di­choto­mous na­ture of san­i­ta­tion ser­vices in South Africa along the eco­nomic line is a proxy for the inequal­ity that exists in the coun­try. While the bet­ter-offs are ser­viced with wa­ter-borne flush­ing toi­lets, the ba­sic san­i­ta­tion de­fined for many town­ships and ru­ral ar­eas is a hole in the ground, ei­ther in the form of the pit la­trine or its equiv­a­lent.

Due to the im­promptu na­ture of in­for­mal set­tle­ments, per­ma­nent in­fra­struc­ture is usu­ally not provided.

The life cy­cle op­er­a­tion and main­te­nance cost of these ad hoc solutions are ex­pen­sive com­pared with more per­ma­nent ones such as the pit la­trine. How­ever, pit la­trines have low user ac­cep­tance and the high rate of re­jec­tion results in pub­lic out­bursts and service de­liv­ery protests.

The right of the cit­i­zens to san­i­ta­tion as stip­u­lated in the Con­sti­tu­tion thus rings hol­low. While the con­sti­tu­tional right at­tempts to give equal ac­cess to san­i­ta­tion it does not stip­u­late equal san­i­ta­tion qual­ity. Un­less equal san­i­ta­tion qual­ity is de­fined in the Con­sti­tu­tion, can we then say ac­cess to san­i­ta­tion is a hu­man right? This is a ques­tion that needs ad­dress­ing as the state of san­i­ta­tion in in­for­mal set­tle­ments has be­come a po­lit­i­cal weapon and ral­ly­ing point for the so­cial­ist ide­al­ist and rad­i­cal hu­man­ists.

This, how­ever, does not tell the full story. If we agree with the sta­tus quo, that ac­cess to san­i­ta­tion ser­vices is a hu­man right, as with ev­ery right, it must come with some level of re­spon­si­bil­ity from its ben­e­fi­cia­ries. Sim­i­lar to the right to free­dom of speech, which strives to min­imise and re­move cen­sor­ship and yet does not war­rant the right to slan­der or pro­mote speech that in­fringe on other rights.

The di­chotomy in san­i­ta­tion service pro­vi­sion is only mir­rored by the di­chotomy in will­ing­ness to pay or to take care of san­i­ta­tion in­fra­struc­ture. The line or scope of re­spon­si­bil­ity for san­i­ta­tion in sub­ur­ban homes is clear and well-de­fined.

The home­owner is re­spon­si­ble for both cap­i­tal and op­er­a­tional costs of the toi­let fa­cil­ity within the bound­ary of the home while the mu­nic­i­pal­ity takes re­spon­si­bil­ity for in­fra­struc­ture out­side the bound­ary or fence. This bound­ary is sacro­sanct and well-re­spected where the sub­ur­ban home­owner more of­ten than not, pays for the san­i­ta­tion ef­flu­ent that is dis­charged from the prop­erty. In peri­ur­ban and in­for­mal set­tle­ments the line or scope of re­spon­si­bil­ity has been dis­torted in the pursuit of ful­fill­ing a con­sti­tu­tional man­date.

This has robbed the home­owner of re­spon­si­bil­ity and the san­i­ta­tion fa­cil­ity is seen as the prop­erty and re­spon­si­bil­ity of the mu­nic­i­pal­ity. As such, these fa­cil­i­ties be­come derelict if not main­tained by the mu­nic­i­pal­ity. The main­te­nance of these fa­cil­i­ties is of­ten­times a drain on the re­sources of the mu­nic­i­pal­ity and the lack of rev­enue from this service ham­pers the abil­ity of the mu­nic­i­pal­ity to in­vest in new san­i­ta­tion in­fra­struc­ture or in the main­te­nance of ex­ist­ing ones.

Un­til the is­sue of who pays and main­tains toi­lets and san­i­ta­tion fa­cil­i­ties in peri-ur­ban and in­for­mal set­tle­ment is ad­dressed, the san­i­ta­tion back­log will con­tinue to grow and the right of ac­cess to ba­sic san­i­ta­tion, as in­tended, will re­main a pipe dream.

| African News Agency (ANA) ar­chives

THE right to ad­e­quate san­i­ta­tion should come with a duty of care by its ben­e­fi­cia­ries, says the writer.

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