Villages’ legal plight for water

Published Jun 5, 2024


The residents of three villages in Amathole District Municipality, with the assistance of the Centre for Applied Legal Studies (Cals), have approached the Eastern Cape High Court as they are sharing water resources with animals.

They are seeking to compel the municipality to provide sufficient water to the 1 237 or so people living in the area who are risking their health and safety due to the dire water situation.

Residents of the Toboyi area in the Eastern Cape, including the villages of Khomkulu-Toboyi, Merilis and Kunene, have approached the high court for assistance.

They maintain that Amathole District Municipality has failed to fulfil its constitutional obligation to supply the villages with sufficient water. Residents are forced to collect rainwater or walk long distances in the dark to collect water from communal tanks, windmills, rivers and streams shared with animals.

About 40% of the residents have water tanks to collect rainwater but the rest cannot afford to buy the tanks. They get their water from communal tanks, rivers and streams.

The communal tanks have, however, reportedly not been filled by the municipality since September 2020. Many people walk long distances to rivers and streams in the dark to get to the water before cattle and other animals get to it.

Cals said a lack of sufficient water placed everyone living in Toboyi at risk. Reports by water experts show that recurring droughts in the district, coupled with poor water service delivery, has left most of the residents with little to no access to water, with the main sources of water being water tanks and boreholes near rivers during the wet season.

Three water samples taken from sources used in the villages demonstrated that there was a high amount of bacteria in the water and infections could occur if the water was not treated.

Residents risk their safety by travelling in the dark to collect water and using poor-quality water that endangers their health. In addition, women and girls bear the social burden of carrying water for domestic use.

Lack of access to sufficient water also presents gendered harms, affecting their right to equality and right to education when girls are forced to miss school because they have no access to proper sanitation during menstruation.

Regulations made in relation to the Water Services Act set out minimum standards for basic water supply and sanitation. They provide that the minimum standard for basic water supply is at least 25 litres a person a day or 6 kilolitres a household a month within 200m of a household.

“The villages of Toboyi do not have a water supply that meets the minimum standard,” Cals said.

The villages have asked the Eastern Cape High Court to declare that the municipality’s failure to supply sufficient water was a dereliction of its constitutional obligations and that the failure violated residents’ rights to access sufficient water. The application asks that the municipality be compelled to provide the villages with potable water in the short-term and an end to the water crisis in the long-term.

“It’s clear that the municipality’s failures violate the residents’ constitutional rights to sufficient water,” Thandeka Kathi, head of Home, Land and Rural Democracy at Cals said.

She added that the right does not exist in isolation. Water was central to human existence and, therefore, the failure also infringed on other rights such as dignity, equality, freedom and security and education.

Pretoria News

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