File photo: Independent Media
Access to water is a mandatory imperative in terms of the National Water Act and the country’s Constitution. Since the dawn of democracy in 1994 water has been put at the centre of the debate on all socio-economic development. Water is now also recognised as a fundamental human right.

There can be no doubt about the important role that water plays in human existence, the environment, economic development and all sustainability.

In the dark days of apartheid water supply was distributed according to race and privilege. The Water Act of 1956 was biased towards white farmers and communities, while black communities, especially in rural areas, had to contend with sharing polluted water with animals.

Consequently, the new government inherited a legacy of between 12 million and 14 million people in 14000 villages who did not have access to clean, potable water.

To address these imbalances, the new Department of Water Affairs and Forestry appointed a team of experts in water and sanitation to review the old act and to recommend a progressive, all-inclusive law that would make water a basic human right. Eighteen months later the team crafted the National Water Act of 1998 and the Water Services Act. Both acts were hailed as being among the best and most progressive the world over.

Since then, the country has made progress with regard to improving access to water supply and decent sanitation. In 2015 there were only 3.64 million South Africans who still didn’t have access to water.

The Department of Water and Sanitation is working hard to bring the figure down. Today that figure has been reduced to just around 3 million.

As we celebrate Water Month in March, we shall seek to acknowledge the improvements in water resource management and the enhancement of sanitation services to overcome poverty in our country.

According to Statistics South Africa’s 2017 reports, nationally, 63.9% of households rated the quality of water-related services they received as good. Satisfaction has, however, been eroding steadily since 2005, when 76.4% of users rated the services good.

The report estimated 46.4% of households had access to piped water in their dwellings in 2016. A further 26.8% accessed water on site, while 13.3% relied on communal taps and 2.4% relied on neighbours’ taps.

Although generally households’ access to water is improving, 3.7% of households still had to fetch water from rivers, streams, stagnant water pools and dams, wells and springs in 2017. This is, however, much lower than the 9.5% of households that had to access water from these sources in 2002.

Through the provision and the efforts of the government, support agencies and existing stakeholders, an additional 20.5% of households in South Africa have access to improved sanitation since 2012.

Analysing the metropolitan areas, the highest percentages of households with access to improved sanitation were recorded in the City of Johannesburg (95.1%), Buffalo City (93.6%) and Nelson Mandela Bay (93.5%), and the lowest percentages were recorded in the City of Tshwane (82.3%) and eThekwini (83.4). Nationally, the percentage of households without sanitation, or who used the bucket toilet system, decreased from 12.6% to 3.1% between 2002 and 2017.

The service delivery facilities were developed in partnership with relevant organs of state and water sector stakeholders, to give effect to local, national, regional, continental and international water and sanitation delivery targets and commitments.

The National Water Resource Strategy (NWRS2) sets out the vision and strategic actions for effective water management. These include the security of water supply, environmental degradation, and pollution of resources.

It outlines the key challenges, constraints and opportunities in water resource management and proposes new approaches that ensure a collective and adequate response for the benefit of all South Africans.

This strategy moves towards the achievement and attainment of an inclusive sustainable and equitable economy.

The NWRS2 ensures that the management of national water resources contributes towards achieving South Africa’s growth, development and socio-economic priorities in an equitable and sustainable manner.

The strategy also responds to the priorities set by the government in the National Development Plan (NDP) and National Water Act of 1998 imperatives that support sustainable development.

In keeping with the goals of the NDP, progress is being made towards eradicating the bucket toilet system in formal and informal areas across South Africa.

In the 2017/18 financial year, DWS planned to eradicate the existing bucket sanitation backlog in formal settlements. However, a total of 8313 buckets were eradicated in the Northern Cape and Free State.

Furthermore, the development of the National Water and Sanitation Master Plan that seeks to enable the targets set out in the NDP vision for 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG Goal 6 2030) of affordable and reliable access to sufficient and safe water and hygienic sanitation for socio-economic growth and well-being, with due regard to the environment, also shows the improvement.

The plan is geared towards the five key “Strategic Pillars” of the department, namely:

Pillar 1: National Water Resources and Services Authority.

Pillar 2: National Water Resources and Services Regular.

Pillar 3: Water Resources and Services Value Chain.

Pillar 4: Water Resources and Services Master Plan.

Pillar 5: Institutional Rationalisation and Organisational Alignment.

The Plan is configured based on 12 milestone elements which define the key programmes identified as necessary to operationalise the new water and sanitation sector paradigm.

As a developing country, South Africa is on the road towards universal access to basic services.

Ngcobo is a communicator at the National Department of Water and Sanitation