As South Africa grapples with the water crisis affecting most parts of South Africa it now emerges that the national Department of Water and Sanitation is on the verge of bankruptcy. Reports indicate that the department has a R2.9 billion overdraft. Given the state of our water situation this news is unpalatable.

This is the department entrusted with the responsibility of ensuring that every South African has access to clean, quality drinking water. As matters stand they have transgressed the provisions of the constitution and have failed to discharge its constitutional mandate. This matter has reached crisis proportions and this has prompted parliament’s standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) to consider plans to lodge criminal complaints against the department. This shocking and disgusting revelation has had a profound affect on all South Africans who have been urged to contribute to water conservation measures in order to save and conserve water. This is a knockout blow to all levels of government that depends on bulk water provision and management to provide communities with the basic right to access to clean, quality water.

Scopa chairperson, Themba Godi said: “This department has a long history of instability and financial mismanagement, and Scopa has resolved to open a criminal case against the department because of the R2.9 billion overdraft. Scopa is concerned that it is ordinary people who are affected by the instability and financial mismanagement in this department, because South Africa is a water stressed country”.

Municipal Focus has in past editions highlighted the alleged irregular conduct of this department and due to a lack of government intervention we are now confronted with this crisis. However we welcome the decision of Scopa and trust that the investigations will be with the haste and seriousness it deserves as it affects us all.

The financial mismanagement of this national department has had an impact on almost all the provinces, more so in the Western, Northern and Eastern Cape where the recent drought has had a devastating affect on all sectors of society with very little solutions forthcoming from the national department. It is reported that the Western Cape alone needs R6 billion to help combat the crisis.

The dilemma the department is now faced with is that treasury has provided only R6 billion for drought relief this year.

The municipalities are now faced with having to cope with the mammoth task of providing clean, quality water to their communities while the national department is on the verge of collapse. The citizens in Cape Town are feeling the most serious impact of the situation. It has now emerged that the water crisis has shown that municipal financing has become the most serious problem that all municipalities are faced with.

The huge water price hikes in the City of Cape Town council’s draft have highlighted what environmentalists say is a flaw in the process of municipal financing.

Under the present system, there are only so many ways a municipality can bring in money. Charging residents for services such as water, electricity and refuse removal brings in on average 47% of the revenue of South African municipalities according to the Chartered Institute of Government Finance, Audit and Risk Officers (CIGFARO). In Cape Town services account for 49% of revenue, and property rates 23.7%.

A problem now arises when there is a shortage of resources such as water or electricity and municipalities encourage or instruct residents to use less. In doing so they cut deeply into one of their biggest sources of income. They now have to make up the shortfall so they increase tariffs.

As a result of the three-year drought in the Western Cape became more acute, national government told users to use less water. In turn the City of Cape Town told residents in January to use 50 liters per person per day or face the prospects of taps running dry. The so -called “Day Zero”

Now after living for months in water -stress mode, saving shower water in buckets, sponge –bathing, wearing clothes multiple times to save on laundry, letting gardens die and urine build up in loos. The council for cutting consumption from 900 million litres a day last year to around 520 million litres a day this year has congratulated Capetonians.

Now the bad news! Capetonians were told that they will have to cough up 29% more on their water and sanitation bills. Thus in this case the city fathers say “thank you very much for saving so much water but now we have collected some R2 billion less and we will have to charge you more” This has caused an uproar and if allowed we can brace ourselves for more service delivery protests.

It is clear that the whole system of municipal funding needs to be overhauled. Cities need to look at new ways of municipal funding, particular new ways of getting revenue from water.

The Latest on Our Water Woes.

 Nelson Mandela Bay.

Dam levels are fast approaching 20%. According to the Mayor, Athol Trollip, “the city will need to strengthen its water conservation efforts to avert a looming disaster”. The Nooitgedaght Low Level Water Scheme is expected to provide extra water, but not all supply sources can be supplemented from the same water system, he explained. “With only 10.37% of recorded water supply, Kouga Dam is the most affected, while Churchill Dam languishes at 18.08%” said Trollip. With no prediction of meaningful rain soon, the municipality is seeing continued high water consumption from domestic and business users. “As the administration, we wish to make a clarion call on residents to assist in preventing a drought disaster by monitoring their household consumption and further tightening their water conservation efforts” he said.

Saldanha Bay

The Saldanha Bay Local Municipality managed to dodge disaster when the catastrophe was delayed after the Department of Water and Sanitation released more than 5 million cubic metres of water from the Berg River Dam, that started trickling in a day shy of the town’s predicted “Day Zero”. Saldanha Bay is the centre of one of the country’s industrial zones and up to 60% of its water is for commercial use.

Lucky Star, is fish canning factory that employs approximately 1200 and has been the mainstay of employment for more that 50 years, has been drastically impacted by the drought. The plant used more than a million litres of water per day was forced to cut down on this usage, threatening the livelihood of many families. After being instructed by the municipality to reduce consumption a year ago, the company decided to invest in a desalination plant. The plant has been completed and will be commissioned in the next few days. Once it is up and running the plant will only use 20% of its water from the municipality.

Source: News 24.