File picture: African News Agency (ANA)
File picture: African News Agency (ANA)

Institute issues water access warning as lockdown debts escalate

By Okuhle Hlati Time of article published Jun 29, 2020

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Cape Town – The Water Institute of Southern Africa (Wisa) fears one of the Covid-19 repercussions could be that people do not have access to water due to outstanding debts owed to municipalities.

As the lockdown has impacted individuals and companies across the spectrum, prompting job losses and reduced working hours, household water supplies may fall victim if users can no longer pay their bills, and municipalities’ revenue streams dry up, according to Wisa.

This as the City of Cape Town is owed more than R1 billion, with the bulk of the outstanding debts being for water and sanitation.

Mayco member for finance Ian Neilson said the provision of services is largely funded by the income from rates and services.

“So any significant and lasting change in this income will impact on both the City and its people. The City has a bit of a buffer to deliver services on reduced income, but it cannot do so sustainably over a long period of time. 

"People who can still afford to pay should continue to do so. Those who are struggling can make payment arrangements to ease some of the burden,” said Neilson.

Wisa warned that proactive interventions to address “the elephant in the room” are overdue.

The organisation’s chairperson for the technical subcommittee, Mike Muller, said in the short term there will still be water for people to wash their hands. 

“However, the long-term consequences could be devastating if municipalities are not able to fund their ongoing operations, while funds for the president’s Infrastructure Investment initiative will also be affected,” Muller said.

Wisa’s non-executive director, Dan Naidoo, said if people were faced with the choice of paying their rates or feeding their children, they would choose the latter.

“This non-payment, in a scenario already under serious financial pressure, could have a devastating effect on the general cash standing of municipalities. 

"Service delivery, including the provision of water, is the cornerstone of all economies. Non-payment affects the entire value chain upstream, and if our five big metros are already reporting tough times, how can we expect the smaller, poorer municipalities to survive?”

Naidoo said while non-payment was currently on the increase, so was domestic water usage.

Cape Times

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