WWF JOURNEY OF WATER, 2013/11/07, World Wildlife Fund Journey of Water to raise awareness of water. In the distance the Berg River Dam wall can be seen. The Berg River Dam is a 68-metre (223 ft) high dam on the Berg River in South Africa. Picture: Adrian de Kock

 Cape Town - Poorer districts need to be cross-subsidised, a SA Human Rights Commission report on the provision of water and sanitation revealed on Tuesday.

“The cross-subsidisation of poorer districts by well-resourced municipalities will ensure that poorer districts are not disadvantaged by their inability to pay for services,” one of the report's recommendations said.

“Officials and representatives of these municipalities need to recognise their obligation to serve the poorest communities.”

The co-operative governance and traditional affairs department should ensure the transfer of skills and training between municipalities.

The SAHRC probe, conducted over a period of two years, stated that while nationally access to acceptable levels of water stood at 85 percent, in some provinces, like KwaZulu-Natal, 14 percent of people had no access to water at all.

Over 70 percent of South African households had access to acceptable levels of sanitation.

For the Eastern Cape, however, 12.5 percent of people had no access to sanitation.

Government's approach to providing water and sanitation was criticised for not being done from a human rights-based point of view.

The report found government was not protecting water as a basic human right.

“...water is viewed mainly as an economic good or commodity by government departments and the private sector,” it said.

“The result is that most of South Africa's water is used by business, especially agribusiness, mining, and other industries, at a relatively lower cost per kilolitre than poor households.”

The poor were being severely impacted through illness caused by chemical pollution from these private sector companies.

The water affairs department (DWA) and mineral resources department (DMR) were given instructions on how to fix this.

“The DWA must put in place a system whereby mines are responsible for cleaning up water sources that they have polluted within a specific time,” the recommendations read.

“The relevant departments must seek compensation and action from courts in the event that a mining company fails to comply.”

President Jacob Zuma should also ensure the sanitation function is shifted.

“The competency of sanitation provision should be moved from the department of human settlements to the department of water affairs to ensure an efficient and streamlined provision of water and sanitation services,” the list of recommendations to government stated.

Government had also failed to budget appropriately for these basic services.

“The report highlights systemic failures in governance and budgeting, particularly in the implementation of and spending on projects,” it said.

“These failures point to the need for government to evaluate the current models of governance and funding.”

The department of performance, monitoring and evaluation tabled its own report to the commission in which it estimated that at least R44.75 billion was needed to provide sanitation to the “un-served”, and upgrade existing infrastructure.

Budgets needed to become more accessible and transparent to communities so people could monitor spending, the report said.

Water and sanitation should be dealt with in a manner that ensured there were no trade-offs on other socio-economic rights, such as the right to education.

“The DoBE (department of basic education) must ensure that its new norms and standards for school infrastructure makes the provision of clean drinking water and dignified sanitation to schools compulsory and must not be in competition for funding with other resources.”

The areas worst affected by a lack of water and sanitation were poor black households.

“Those areas which lack water and sanitation mirror apartheid spatial geography,” the SAHRC said in its findings.

The lack of sanitation often led to other human rights being transgressed, including the rights to dignity, education, health, safety, and the environment.”

The commission decided to investigate the state of water and sanitation provision in the country following two probes into the building of unenclosed toilets in Makhaza, Khayelitsha, in Cape Town, and in Rammulotsi in the Free State.

Both the City of Cape Town and the Moqhaka municipality were found to have violated the rights of residents to dignity, privacy, and a clean environment. - Sapa