Wednesday, April 22, 2009

African Water Woes: Clean Water a Commodity Few Can Afford

Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Water.... where is the justice? ( Community News - published by Trust for Community Outreach & Education)

While we drown in the endless rhetoric of electoral promises by politicians guaranteeing the right to adequate and affordable basic needs, water is being turned into a luxury that only the rich can afford. Just ten days before World Water Day on 22nd March, an international day of observance and action to draw attention to the fact that more than 1 billion people worldwide that lack access to clean, safe drinking water, members of the Mawubuye Land Rights Forum an organisation working to unify and mobilise rural communities, appeared in court on charges of public violence for demanding their right to water. The altercation between the frustrated residents and municipal employees broke out on a hot, dry Friday afternoon when contrary to the promise made by the Barrydale municipal manager, Walter Hendricks, there was still no water coming out of the taps.

In Cape Town, Water Management Devices (WMDs) currently being rolled out in black and coloured townships to supposedly reduce wastage and assist poorer households in managing their water usage have been met with such resistance that communities, tired of cut-offs after using a mere 20 of their 25 litre free, daily allowance, are threatening to rip the devices out. The water woes are not just limited to the Western Cape, the City of Johannesburg and Johannesburg Water are appealing the judgement that declared prepaid water meters illegal and unconstitutional in April last year. If they win the appeal, it would not only reverse this historic judgement but could also potentially jeopardise the Court’s order to supply each resident of Phiri with 50 litres of free water per day as the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry are appealing that amount.

It is particularly alarming that South Africa’s looming water crisis has become the perfect scapegoat for the ‘quiet privatisation’ of water which allows the government to retain ownership of this scarce resource but with control and management being outsourced to the private sector. When the ANC-led government began promoting the privatization of public services through GEAR and the Municipal Infrastructure and Investment Unit, clean water instantly became a commodity and millions of people across the country who could not afford to pay had their water cut off. Along with energy, housing and telecommunications, the privatization of water service delivery has meant that citizens are being turned into customers that the municipality is no longer accountable to in the same way than if water was state-owned and run.

The glaring reality is that the allocation of local government and municipal resources for water, sanitation and refuse removal is still divided along apartheid lines irrespective of which political party is in control. As Shawn Hattingh of the International Labour Research and Information Group (ILRIG) reported in last month’s article for the Monthly Review, eight times more money is spent on providing water to the predominantly white suburb of Durbanville compared to Khayelitsha, and four times more money per person for waste removal. At least 52% of people living in Johannesburg have to do without adequate sanitation services while Sandton continues to have one of the highest rates of water consumption in the world.

But it is not in Sandton, nor in the affluent suburbs of Cape Town, where there are pools to fill and lush green gardens to water that pre-paid meters or Water Management Devices are being rolled out. It is in the dry, dusty and barren ghettos of Mitchells Plain and the townships of Soweto and Khayelitsha. It is time to call a spade a spade. Water management in its current policy and implementation is not about the prudent or cautious distribution of a dwindling resource, it is about cost recovery and ensuring that only those that can afford to pay for water are entitled to it.
Posted by Raffaella at 6:37 AM

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