Durban - The rebuilding of the water infrastructure damaged by the recent catastrophic floods was an opportunity for eThekwini Municipality to upgrade its ageing and incapacitated water pipes that frequently burst, resulting in constant water outages.
However, this could be done if only disaster relief funds were sufficient for the mammoth task the city had to undertake, according to Philani Mavundla, eThekwini Municipality’s deputy mayor.
While the floods may have caused severe damage to the city’s water network, the municipality has been struggling with ongoing pipe bursts as a result of ageing infrastructure for many years.
The city’s increasing population and illegal connections were cited as major contributors to the strain on the water supply.
Several areas on the outskirts of the city were already experiencing prolonged water outages.
Before the floods, the city revealed that it needed about R8 billion to repair the old infrastructure.
Ednick Msweli, head of the city’s water and sanitation unit, warned that anything could happen to the city’s water infrastructure, as it was living on “borrowed time”.
But the key challenge was budget, as the water and sanitation unit received an annual budget of about R480 million that went towards purchasing water meters and repairing burst pipes. Msweli also warned that, if nothing was done in the next 10 years, the costs of repairing the network would balloon to R17 billion.
With flood damage amounting to over R1 billion for water infrastructure, there were fears that water woes may be prolonged in several areas.
Mavundla, who is also the chairperson of the city’s infrastructure and human settlements committee, said that, while the recent disaster was an unfortunate incident, the city could capitalise on it by making critical changes to prepare for the future.
“Our infrastructure is ageing. Even before the floods, we had major problems. As we prepare for the rebuilding, it would be great if we took this opportunity to solve the problems that were already existing.
“We have done our assessment as a cluster to quantify the damages. We would love to renew our infrastructure and build capacity that would be able to cater for the increasing population. The budget may limit us, but that is something we were looking into even before the floods.
“We hope that there will be co-operation between the municipality and the department as we rebuild, not only fixing the damage but also preparing for the future,” said Mavundla.
KwaZulu-Natal has been declared a national state of disaster by President Cyril Ramaphosa. This means the province and the municipality will receive funds from the National Treasury to rebuild once the assessment of the costs had been finalised and submitted to the president.
This week the provincial government revealed that the preliminary assessment of the cost of the flood damage was R17 billion, with eThekwini being the most damaged municipality in the province.
Minister of Water and Sanitation Senzo Mchunu believed that eThekwini required more than R1 billion to repair the city’s water pipes.
“We need to act fast and decisively to deal with the challenge at hand,” he said.