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Water and Sanitation Minister Senzo Mchunu issues warning over water losses in municipalities

The minister in a colourful shirt addresses the media with microphones in front of him and a government banner behind him.

Water and Sanitation Minister Senzo Mchunu has issued a warning over water losses in municipalities, saying the matter had to be tackled. File Picture: GCIS.

Published Oct 4, 2023


Durban - Water and Sanitation Minister Senzo Mchunu has instructed municipalities to ensure the collection of water revenue from all consumers, warning that the culture of non-payment for services will lead to a “total collapse” of infrastructure.

The minister said municipalities should account for every last drop of water supplied to consumers, adding that collecting only from those who paid voluntarily would be disastrous because they would be burdened and overwhelmed by the escalating bill.

He gave the directive while updating stakeholders on the building of the R24 billion uMkhomazi Water Project. The event was held at the Durban ICC yesterday. The dam is critical for the provision of water supply in big municipalities across the province, including eThekwini Metro and uMgungundlovu.

During his address, where Mchunu also unveiled the 12-member board of the recently merged Umgeni-uThukela Water Authority, he spoke of many projects that are under way to improve water security.

The water situation across the country is dire, with several big cities such as Johannesburg experiencing water shortages. Parts of Durban and the province have also endured serious water shortages. Recently, the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) released a report detailing the water crises in the province, describing the situation as a disaster and placing governance entities on terms to deal with the matter.

Mchunu told members of the media on the sidelines of the event that internally, the departments had already defined the situation as a crisis so the characterisation of the situation by the SAHRC did not surprise them.

“We cannot go out there in public crying, this is a crisis, we just have to do the work. Many dams are full of water – if there was no water in the rivers, we would be going out saying this is a disaster, so the crisis is on the supply of water from the dams to the residents.”

The minister had earlier told the attendees at the briefing about the project that would work on limiting water losses and ensuring that everyone pays for the water they use.

In the eThekwini Municipality, 58% of water is deemed to be non-revenue water. This is water bought from the water authority, yet the City generates no revenue from it as it goes to communal taps or is lost through leaks or illegal connections. This amounts to R2bn in revenue losses.

“We have spoken to the municipality on the issue of the ageing infrastructure and pipes that causes leaks. There is no magic wand to address this problem and we have told the municipality that every year they should set aside money to replace pipes – fixing the pipes may no longer be efficient, they just have to replace and renew.”

Mchunu said municipalities must address the issue of non-revenue water, adding that it was not good enough to say the water was supplied to rural and informal settlements.

“Every house that gets water from the municipality should have a meter so that the municipality knows the people getting the water from it and how much water is being used.

“The municipality should deal with the illegal connections, firstly by ensuring that everyone is connected, and (if the problem of illegal connections persists) it should hold campaigns aimed at discouraging that activity,” he said.

He said municipalities should address issues of billing and ensure the bills that are sent out are correct and that the revenue ends up in the City’s coffers.

“There is no policy that says people living in informal settlements should not pay for water, they pay for taxis, they pay for cellphones and they pay for DStv.”

Mchunu added that failure to collect on water bills, or collecting just from those that can afford to pay would be disastrous: “You could collapse the entire system because the bill for those that can pay will simply be too much for them to carry.”

EThekwini mayor Mxolisi Kaunda said the City was working to address the issue on non-revenue water. In the interim, he said the City had imposed a levy which to date had generated about R200 million that would be used for the pipe replacement programme.

In this financial year, the City had increased the water and sanitation budget to around R2.1bn to address issues in this area.

“We will also be installing bulk meters in the rural areas and informal settlements to account for the water used in these communities,” Kaunda said.

Professor Faizal Bux, director of the Institute for Water and Wastewater Technology at the Durban University of Technology, said the issue of non-revenue water was not being taken seriously by the government.

“For every litre of water we buy we are losing more than 50%, the statistics speak for themselves. In that context, how can we say the matter is being taken seriously? The situation is unacceptable,” he said, adding that the situation is critical and the government had to get the basics right when it comes to management of water.

He added that the uMkhomazi water project was a good initiative and long overdue. However, it was imperative that the project be completed within the allocated time and communities have access to good quality water on tap.