Durban - ETHEKWINI Municipality needs R21billion to fix its crumbling and ageing water and sanitation infrastructure that has deteriorated at an alarming rate due to the influx of job seekers into the city.
The revelation was made by senior council officials who recently met with the national committee on Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs, where they detailed the infrastructure challenges.
The municipality yesterday said plans were in place to gradually rehabilitate its infrastructure, with a special focus on its water and sanitation infrastructure that had assets in excess of R96bn.
The challenges have led to complaints from residents about leaking underground pipe systems and sewage pipes, and electricity blackouts, especially in areas next to informal settlements.
Besides pressure from new development brought on by the influx of job seekers into the city, the infrastructure is also being compromised by illegal connections and illegal dumping of foreign objects into the system.
Haniff Hoosen, a DA committee member who was part of the oversight visits, said city officials told them the municipality’s infrastructure was crumbling and would cost billions to renew.
“They told us the infrastructure is in urgent need of rehabilitation and can no longer cope. There have been numerous reports of sewage flows into the uMbilo River and the pipes bursting daily in suburbs like Verulam, Phoenix and Tongaat.”
EThekwini spokesperson Msawakhe Mayisela said plans were in place to gradually rehabilitate all infrastructure.
He said in recent history, R2.1bn had been spent on water pipe replacement, R2.1bn on the large aqueducts, R3bn on community ablution blocks, and R2bn on water treatment upgrades.
“The city is looking at pipe replacement programmes for different parts of the municipality, but these cannot be implemented all at once due to budget constraints. Pipe replacement projects are split into zones and priority is based on factors like pipe age, frequency of bursting, and residual pressures in the system.
He said while the city implemented its programme to rehabilitate its infrastructure, the community could help by treating its facilities with care.
“Our biggest challenges remain illegal connections and the blocking of our sewers with foreign objects. These are issues the city is working to resolve with speed. Compounding our woes are incidents where alien objects continue to enter our sanitation system.
“We also have a challenge of illegal connections to our system - where material that is not compatible with our sanitation system is used - to the detriment of our infrastructure,” he said.
Mike Sutcliffe, former eThekwini municipal manager, said infrastructure issues were complex.
He estimated that over the next 10 to 15 years, the municipality could need as much as R100bn for all its infrastructure needs, including roads and electricity.
“When I was still with the city, we had a maintenance plan and replacement plan. For instance, we knew that over 20 years some of the major electricity infrastructure would need to be replaced.”
He said any infrastructure investment should take into account climate change, adding that small things like river cleaning were part of protecting the infrastructure, as it prevented plastic from flooding the system.
Sutcliffe said while the city’s engineering department was doing well, corruption could have played a large role in the city infrastructure falling behind.
“We must remember that when people steal, they take the money that is meant for service delivery and they are not focused on the job they are supposed to do,” said Sutcliffe.
He said Covid-19 also impacted on infrastructure maintenance this year, as worker movement was restricted.
A local water infrastructure expert, with extensive knowledge of municipal systems, who spoke to The Mercury on condition of anonymity, said the city was facing challenges but R21bn sounded like too much.
“If they were to upgrade the water treatment plan, clean the sewers and change the main pipes that have become too small, I do not believe the figure would be R21bn. The issue with the sewers is they are not being cleaned every five years like they should be, with the water there are mains that need to be upgraded. For instance, you will find in rural areas the city would have put in pipes designed for rural communities, but they have now grown into cities,” he said.
IFP caucus leader Mdu Nkosi said the city was losing a fortune, especially in water losses. “The main problem is our infrastructure is old and needs to be changed. That is something we raised almost 10 years ago, yet not much was done,” said Nkosi.