The water crisis will finally be addressed

Johannesburg – Organised labour and the government have agreed to form a committee to deal with South Africa’s looming water crisis.

The committee would look at procurement, budgetary problems and legislative processes, Costa Raftopoulos, the president of the Federation of Unions of SA told reporters in Johannesburg on Tuesday.

“Among other things, the committee will ensure that an audit of the state of our infrastructure is done. It will look at why it takes so long to address water-related problems.”

The committee, which would be formed under the auspices of the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac), would also investigate Fedusa’s demands, which included the development and implementation of a national education programme to build awareness of the importance of water.

Fedusa demanded that by using the water affairs department’s Blue Drop/Green Drop report, non-functioning drinking water and wastewater plants must be identified and placed under intensive care under the control of a national project manager.

“The manager or co-ordinator’s job will be to draw up a national programme of work and a budget to restore the entire infrastructure and to ensure that government agrees to a fast-tracked procurement processes.”

‘Little urgency in addressing crisis’

National government had to cut red tape and approve a budget as a matter of urgency. At the same time staffing issues should be attended to.

Fedusa and its affiliate, the United Association of SA (Uasa), presented their “well researched” findings of its Section 77 application to Nedlac, with regards to the state of water security. Government representatives asked to be given 30 days to consult internally. Nedlac would then convene the first meeting of a steering committee.

Section 77 of the Labour Relations Act gives workers the right to seek intervention or take part in protest action to promote or defend their socio-economic interests.

During the presentations and discussion, Fedusa showed particular concern about the “apparent dragging of feet” by authorities in charge of the country’s water. Fedusa and Uasa said they had shown little urgency in addressing a crisis threatening the health and safety of humans, animals and agriculture alike.

“According to the World Health Organisation in Africa, about 2.9 million people die of HIV/Aids annually, but more alarming is the fact that about 3.4 million people die of the consumption of unsafe water and sanitation (2002 figures),” Fedusa said in a statement.

Uasa emphasised it was alarmed about how much money the government spent on HIV/Aids education and awareness, which was necessary. The same could however not be said about the water issue.

Health hazards

Dr Jo Barnes, an epidemiologist from Stellenbosch University, warned about the health hazards of polluted streams, rivers and dams. It was possible to trace pollution to its source where it should be rectified.

“Our people are seriously threatened by the water crisis we face, but it is the newborns, the unborn babies, pregnant women, the elderly and the frail who are the most vulnerable to the lack of sanitation and clean water.

“The contamination of water and water-borne diseases are causing havoc in the poor communities, resulting in serious health risks amongst our people. We need a commitment from all South Africans to seriously and visibly act fast to address the issues that are now threatening the lives of the poor.”

She said it was estimated that South Africa would run out of water by 2025.

“Pollution of water sources on a widespread scale by industrial and mining activities contribute to the country’s looming water crisis.”

Barnes said toxic water from disused mines accumulated, rose to the surface and drained into rivers, after which people consumed it.


Poor maintenance of major storage dams was one of the main areas of concern.

“Structures have been weakened and there are added costs of water purification. Failing water and sewage infrastructure contribute to South Africa’s water crisis.”

Old and poorly maintained systems, poor provision of services, especially in impoverished areas, and unwise use of budgets were a big problem, Barnes said.

According to the government’s 2009 Blue Drop report, drinking water met safety standards in only 8% of the country’s municipalities.

Of the 449 municipal waste water treatment works assessed, skills shortages resulted in many not being operated correctly and water quality no longer met standards.

Only 7.9% of works achieved green drop certification.

Barnes said 80% of existing sewerage treatment works were overloaded. About 40% of those in towns were on the brink of collapse. The quality of river water had fallen by 20% in the past five years, she said.

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