Western Cape premier Helen Zille has criticised the national government for not making funding available for water augmentation efforts in the drought-ravaged city of Cape Town.
“Although bulk water supply is its mandate, the national Department of Water and Sanitation has not made funding available for augmentation in this crisis, because the National Treasury has literally turned off its funding tap following a disastrous audit outcome,” Zille said during her state of the province address in the provincial legislature on Thursday.
She said that, as a result, the City of Cape Town had stepped into the breach with aquifer extraction, water reuse and desalination projects amounting to close to R6bn over the five-year medium term revenue expenditure framework.
“No local government should have to shoulder the burden of capital and operational costs for what is a national function,” the premier said.
Cape Town is in the middle of its worst drought in a century and could become the first major city in the world to run out of water, with officials predicting that most taps could run dry by the middle of July.
Zille dedicated much of her address on Thursday to the water crisis.
“The immense challenge of the province’s longest drought on record will test our capabilities to their limits — at all levels of government. While managing a provincial state of disaster, declared in May 2017, we also had to continue delivering on our core constitutional mandates,” she said.
Zille said she noted Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba’s budget speech setting aside R6bn for drought relief and infrastructure for the five provinces hit by the current drought.
“Although R6bn is a lot of money, divided between five provinces it will hardly touch sides if it is intended both for relief and new infrastructure. The city’s infrastructure-build programme, on its own, amounts to almost R6bn. The provincial government, operating on a very constrained budget, has diverted over R369m from our core functions to supplement disaster funding since 2015-16. The funds have gone to supporting municipalities with water supply projects, and to helping small-holder farmers survive this crippling drought,” Zille said.
Zille said Cape Town was projecting that dams serving the metro and surrounding municipalities would reach an average level of 13.5% by mid-winter, based on the current demand on dams. This would be the lowest storage level ever recorded and the potential trigger for Day Zero — or Level 7 restrictions — when the city turns off the taps in residential areas to conserve the remaining water supply. That was when most people would have to queue for water — rather than sourcing it from a tap in their homes, Zille said.
However, she said that business districts, informal settlements and public health facilities would remain connected to supply. During this phase the city intends to offer a lifeline supply of water to residents through water collection points across the metro. These will be supplemented by the private sector that is making plans to ensure a range of complementary supply points across the city.
“We are trying to secure as many jobs as possible by supporting businesses to reduce water usage, maintain productivity and increase the water resilience of their operations in the medium term. We are also working to ensure that, in the event of Day Zero, frontline service points remain open. This involves a major procurement and logistics operation to secure water supply, which includes the drilling of boreholes, water collection and storage systems, water treatment works and reticulation networks,” Zille said.
ANC Western Cape leader Khaya Magaxa said Zille was blaming the ANC at national level, “but taking credit for the same ANC’s performance at national level”.
“Instead of taking responsibility of her own failures, especially around management of water, she is blaming the ANC … the same ANC that rescued [the city] from Day Zero, which [has been moved to July] … it’s because of the ANC’s intervention. It’s the national minister of water and sanitation who has negotiated with the farm owners around those dams,” said Magaxa.