CBN’s 3rd Series round table discussion on The Future of Water Sanitation

The crisis in sanitation in South Africa is not a new phenomenon.

It has been ongoing for at least the past decade judging by the number of reports, plans and policy documents initiated by amongst others:

  • DWS (Dept of Water & Sanitation), – 2016 – National Sanitation Policy Draft
  • SAICE through its State of the Infrastructure reports – Infrastructure Report Card, 2010 & 2017
  • CSIR – State of Water & Sanitation in SA, – 2006
  • AfriForum – Blue & Green Drop Report – 2019
  • Human Rights Commission Report – 2021
  • SA Medical Journal who said in 2009 that ”85% of sewage infrastructure is dilapidated”
  • Annual Auditor General reports – Et al.

All these reports and policy documents, drafted by eminent academics, financial and engineering professionals say the same thing yet little or nothing is ever done except, more reports and planning documents.

No errant municipalities or responsible officials have ever been prosecuted for this catastrophic failure of sanitation services.

The responsible government department – DWS – highlighted in its 2016 National Sanitation Policy Draft,

  • 75% of SA’s sewage treatment plants do not meet the minimum standards
  • Of the 852 plants, over 400 could not be assessed, and of the 203 remainder, only about 50% met the minimum standards
  • On the topic of skills shortages, seen as a major contributor to the crisis, it stated that “in 1994 there were 20 engineers / 100 000 of the population”. At the time of writing in 2016, this figure had dropped to 3 / 100 000.

Conscious of the unfolding disaster, the Dept. took a positive step in 2009 when it initiated the Blue and Green Drop assessments, designed to create a league table of the good, bad and the ugly in an effort where municipalities could be measured against national standards of water and sewage quality standards and implement measures to improve.

This excellent initiative lasted all but five years being abandoned in 2014 for reasons unexplained but according to Afriforum “The ANC government is trying to hide its incompetence by withholding information from the public, and even from parliament…” In response, Afriforum have conducted its own Blue and Green Drop assessments and in 2019 of the 124 sewage plants tested that year, 65 did not comply with set standards and “A major concern is that so many plants are releasing sewage into our rivers…”.

The dialog goes on and on…

So, what is to be done?

We certainly have the technology to solve the problem, and contrary to the DWS report in 2016, there are many professional engineers currently unemployed, who could be mobilised to project manage solutions.

The DWS report / policy draft in 2016 estimated that to fix South Africa’s sanitation problems would cost R293-billion. That was five years ago – how much now?

Whilst spasmodic progress has been made, overall the situation continues to be dire especially in underperforming municipalities and those, quite incredibly, under administration.

So what is to be done is the question posed to our panel of experts.