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Water scarcity drives protests: study

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The KZN area loses close to 50 percent of its purified water through pipe leaks, theft, neglect and wasteful use.

A lack of adequate and safe drinking water played a significant part in service delivery protests across the country, the Water Research Commission said on Friday.

This emerged from a study it had commissioned on “Social Water Scarcity and Water Use”.

“When government has not met expectations, citizens have responded by blaming government structures for non-delivery of services,” the commission said.

Researcher Barbara Nompumelelo Tapela investigated selected rural and urban case studies in the North West, Western Cape, and Limpopo provinces.

The study sought to deepen understanding of the links between water scarcity and societal expectations for service delivery.

In many cases, government officials had responded by disengaging from citizen groups or shifting blame.

This gave rise to increasing frustration among citizens.

In this way, a self-reinforcing cycle leading to poorer delivery was created.

Officials were even less likely to communicate with the public or co-operate with each other.

Public frustration increased as long-standing problems were not resolved.

This led to disregard for the law.

In some cases, there were violent protests against a system which people did not feel respected them.

In Sannieshof, North West province, residents did not have adequate access to water.

Water infrastructure had been neglected for years.

A particularly pressing issue for residents was the lack of a proper water and sanitation plan.

Unmanaged raw sewage had affected the area's water quality since 2007.

Pelindaba residents relied on communal taps or stand pipes for water access.

Three taps serviced a population of more than six hundred households.

One respondent pointed out that there were 10 communal taps but only two were functional.

All respondents agreed that they had experienced a water-point breakdown at some stage over the past year.

Khayelitsha, in the Western Cape, had experienced exponential growth in population since 1986.

Only 30 percent of households had yard and in-house water and sanitation facilities.

About 70 percent of households used communal taps or stand pipes for water supply.

They had inadequate or no access to sanitation.

A Khayelitsha resident of QQ section said: “The first thing is that we don't have toilets. We defecate into buckets inside our shacks. It is completely unacceptable for an adult to be defecating inside living areas. The whole shack becomes smelly.”

Protests by Khayelitsha residents had not had positive results.

This was due to the fluidity and lack of community organisation in informal settlements.

Residents of Muyexe village in Giyani, Limpopo, complained of water scarcity.

“How can a person survive without water? It is an essential source of life,” one respondent complained.

Women spent more time fetching water than men, and experienced waiting times extending well into the night.

“This exposed women to a range of risks to personal safety and security,” the report said, particularly with regard to livestock.

In some cases, water needs expressed by the community were not prioritised by municipalities.

There were discrepancies between water use data at planning levels and data collected on a micro-level, the commission said. – Sapa


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