Water woes: Urgent plan now needed

Residents have barricaded roads in Verulam, north of Durban, following months of dry taps. Residents are now demanding to be addressed by eThekwini mayor, Mxolisi Kaunda. Picture: Supplied

Residents have barricaded roads in Verulam, north of Durban, following months of dry taps. Residents are now demanding to be addressed by eThekwini mayor, Mxolisi Kaunda. Picture: Supplied

Published Jan 29, 2024


Experts have warned that recent water outages experienced in eThekwini may worsen if urgent action is not taken to deal with failing and ageing infrastructure.

They were commenting as businesses in the city explained the impact of water outages on their operations and the steps they were taking to ensure they had water supply. Several areas across Durban, in the north and south, have been experiencing continuous or intermittent water outages in recent weeks.

The eThekwini Municipality said last week that the range of issues were due to problems including damage caused by the recent floods, ageing infrastructure, and vandalism. It said the outages were being dealt with.

Professor Tafadzwa Mabhaudhi, professor on Climate Change, Food Systems and Health and an honorary professor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said that he was part of the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) investigation that looked into whether municipalities in KZN had violated people’s right to water last year.

“The findings of that report were scathing of most municipalities, including eThekwini. Major reasons given by municipalities for failure to ensure the right to water included failing and ageing infrastructure, lack of budget for operations, maintenance and new builds, and a lack of human capacity needed to maintain the existing infrastructure.”

Mabhaudhi added that the SAHRC report should have sounded the alarm about a looming water crisis if urgent steps were not taken.

“Lack of access to water also creates a public health risk due to heat stress, dehydration and diseases such as cholera.”

Professor Faizal Bux, director of the Institute for Water and Wastewater Technology at the Durban University of Technology, said it was a constitutional right for people to have continuous access to clean drinking water.

“In addition, water quality needs to satisfy national standards for potable water. In recent times, inconsistent water supply to the north of Durban has created substantial inconvenience and needs to be addressed with the urgency it deserves.”

Bux added that the municipality’s response to the magnitude of the crisis was inadequate.

“There is no clear communication from the municipality on exactly when the problem will be fully resolved. Additional demand has resulted in reservoirs not filling fully, thus further compounding the problem. Urgent intervention by all stakeholders is required to prevent a similar crisis.”

Professor Jeff Smithers, director of the Centre for Water Resources Research and Umgeni Water Chair of Water Resources Research and Innovation at UKZN, said: “There are numerous challenges with water and the amount of water being lost due to poor infrastructure is not acceptable. There needs to be an urgent plan on how infrastructure can be repaired and clean drinking water provided to people.”

Businesses, especially tourism establishments, said they have had to install storage tanks due to the ongoing challenges experienced. Sammy Alli, general manager at Jessica’s B&B, said they had to put in measures due to the water outages in Durban North.

“We have installed a JoJo tank. This water we use for bathing and cleaning. It (the outages) is a concern, when customers leave because of water challenges, they leave bad reviews, our clientele drops.”

Alli added that many places were for sale due to service delivery issues in the area.

Sabelo Didi, vice-chairperson of uMhlanga Tourism, said businesses and residents in their region had been negatively affected by the recent water outages.

“Over the years, some properties/businesses have invested in energy and water-saving equipment. Water tankers are currently supplying water in certain places.”

Didi added: “Taking into consideration the recent natural disasters, the future is really unpredictable. It will be a great shame to see the water issues continue longer.”

A franchise business owner from Phoenix, who did not want to be named for fear of reprisals, said he had installed JoJo tanks due to the water crisis.

“The problem was severe and we had to install JoJo tanks.

Business will close, so we had to take big measures to ensure the survival of the business.”

Pastor Mervyn Reddy, a community activist from Phoenix, said they were planning a peaceful protest on Monday due to the water crisis.

“We won’t resort to violence but we are fed up with the water issues. Children don’t have water for school, residents don’t have water for work. Businesses are impacted.

“The municipality is saying that they are not receiving enough supply from uMngeni-uThukela and it is just more suffering without water.”

Bradley Singh, DA political head for Phoenix, oThongathi and Verulam, said residents were frustrated and the situation was tense.

The Mercury