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Durban - While South Africans are being urged to help conserve and protect the country’s precious water resources, the eThekwini Municipality has revealed it lost more than 237 million litres a day during its most recent financial quarter.
Details of the massive water loss - mainly the result of burst water pipes, theft, leaks and overflows in the city’s 13 000km of pipes - were outlined in a report tabled at the municipality’s executive committee (exco) meeting on the eve of National Water Week, which starts today.
The increased loss has been blamed on essential equipment not being bought.
It was revealed that
by the end of the second quarter in December 2012, the city was losing 237 879 000 litres a day - an increase of 3.467 million litres every day when compared to the whole of the 2011/12 financial year period.
The loss every day equates to nearly 6 000 medium swimming baths (40 000 litres each).
In 2011/12 the city bought 870 million litres a day, but only sold 561.9 million litres of that; the rest being water lost, as well as for its own use.
For the same period, a total of 85.6 billion litres - 234 412 000 litres a day - was lost.
The municipality attributed the extra loss to its intervention programme stalling late last year.
The programme to stem water lost due to theft, leaks and burst pipes had “practically ground to a halt” as a result of the city’s failure to award contracts for “critical interventions”, Simon Scruton, the manager for the eThekwini Water and Sanitation’s non-revenue water branch, said in the report.
The branch is in charge of reducing water losses.
Scruton said in the report that “almost no activities” had taken place in the second quarter, which led to the system deteriorating and the levels of water leakages rising again. Illegal connections, vandalism, and people failing to report leakages, had also greatly contributed to the increase, he added.
“Even though I cannot give an exact figure, this is costing the city millions every year,”
Scruton said in an interview with the Daily News.
Mava Scott, the chief director for communication services at the Department of Water Affairs, said this year’s Water Week came at a time of numerous challenges, including water shortages in the Free State, Mpumalanga and the North West, and reported water quality concerns.
Scott said a report by the Water Research Commission that would be officially released by Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa this week, indicated that almost half of South Africa’s drinking water was lost in the distribution system.
“This water is lost, among others, through leaking taps, pipes and illegal connections. As such, a heightened awareness about the value of water in relation to our own behaviour requires a shift in our mindset as citizens and people who rely on water for survival,” he said.
“However, the department is working closely with municipalities in these areas to urgently address these challenges in the short, medium to long term.
Scott said the department’s Rapid Response Unit had been deployed to some of the affected areas and progress was being made to address the current challenges.
He explained that the causes of water shortages varied according to the different problems faced by the municipalities, saying that in areas where inadequate infrastructure had been identified, upgrades and repair work were being done.
The recent high temperatures had also led to reservoirs drying up, affecting water availability and supply, he added.
A renewed sense of urgency and commitment in water management and enduring partnerships with the private sector and entire society was needed to deal with the challenges of water availability and security of supply, Scott said.
“It is clear that the department and the sector have to move in earnest to implement the long-term measures which are aimed at addressing these enduring challenges in our localities,” he said.
“The finalisation of the National Water Resource Strategy 2 and implementation of the Water Infrastructure Investment Plan will assist us in moving forward speedily.”
The strategy seeks to identify opportunities where water can be made available for productive livelihoods, and also the support and assistance needed to use the water effectively.
Addressing exco members at a city meeting earlier this month, mayor James Nxumalo said urgent intervention was required to avert a crisis in eThekwini.
The Minority Front’s Patrick Pillay asked whether the city had sufficient plumbers to attend to all the leaks, saying leaks were often leaving residents without water for up to 24 hours.
Last weekend residents of Umhlatuzana in Chatsworth were without water for 10 hours after a pipe burst.
The DA’s Ronnie Veeran said stemming the leaks should be a priority. “Let us attend to the things that people can see, like burst water pipes and potholes,” he said.
City treasurer Krish Kumar noted there were call centres to receive public complaints about the water and electricity departments. But deputy mayor Nomvuzo Shabalala was not impressed, saying the call centre phones went unanswered.
“They (the centres) are no longer working the same way that they used to before. We need to follow up on them and find out what is happening,” she said.
Lilian Develing, chairwoman of the Combined Ratepayers Association, said the city had known for years about the amount of water that was being lost through leaks.
She said the city was losing billions of litres of water because it did not have enough manpower to run the water system, and the people they did have were generally not qualified for their jobs.
“This is a major problem, because with every drop of water that is wasted, ratepayers suffer the consequences,” Develing said.
“The city just cannot keep up. They just don’t have a plan in curbing water loss by the looks of things.”
She said the head of the city’s Water and Sanitation Department, Neil Macleod, was the only person in the water department who knew what he was doing.
“But we can’t expect miracles from him when he is not given the proper resources and employees to perform his duties. We are heading down a slippery slope.”