CAPE TOWN - The poor are largely invisible to policy-makers until there is a crisis.
This is according to Jay Bhagwan, executive manager at the Water Research Commission, in response to how the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed long-standing governance failures such as water management in the country.
Bhagwan was part of a discussion, hosted by the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies, on water scarcity.
Since the declaration of a state of disaster in South Africa, national and provincial governments have been scrambling to assist communities in dire need of water.
A 2018 general household survey indicated that 89% of households in the country have access to pipe or tap water, and according to Bhagwan, this figure dropped to 70% when the minimum standards for reliability had been taken into account.
The survey also showed that behind Gauteng, the Western Cape had the second-highest proportion of informal households.
The City of Cape Town has delivered 307 JoJo tanks to densely populated informal settlements, and water trucks and tanks have supplied 41 million litres of drinkable water to areas where pipes were difficult to install.
The Social Justice Coalition’s Axolile Notywala said the provision of temporary tanks showed a lack of long-term planning on the part of the government in providing basic services to informal settlements.
“For decades, municipalities and governments have continued to view informal settlements as temporary while many have existed for years. This means there isn’t a commitment to invest in infrastructure in informal settlements,” he said.
“When we talk about access it speaks directly to the inequalities; the City likes (to) say 80% or 90% of people have access to water.
“But access for someone with a tap in their house is different for someone who has to travel 200m or a kilometre to get water,” Notywala added.
“Is it access if I have to leave my house, put a bucket on my head and walk in the morning or night in a dangerous community?”
Bhagwan said a shift in policy had been required to adequately meet the needs of all South Africans.
“Whenever we are in a crisis it is the poor who get pushed to the back and we are scrambling around to find water for them in times of emergency.
“I don’t think we adequately invest in water and sanitation infrastructure. After 20 years, we are still not a very equal country in terms of service delivery,” he said.
“One of the real issues that doesn’t get discussed is how we are not a homogeneous society; we cannot use a single policy paradigm to service two different societies facing different challenges where the needs are different.
“We need to re-look at human rights to water and offer more protection around them. There is no equity to allocation at municipal level; you see how on one side 800l of water per capita is provided and the other side gets 50l per capita, all because allocations are driven by revenue.”