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Archive for October, 2014

It is a national disgrace that parts of Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni and Tshwane experienced water supply disruption in recent weeks, and government’s response to this unprecedented situation has been singularly disappointing.

At a media briefing on 26 September 2014, the Minister of Water and Sanitation,  Nomvula Mokonyane, said there was a need to move beyond the “blame game”, and a joint statement released by the department and Rand Water on 30 September 2014 stated that the interruptions had “largely been as a result of vandalism and circumstances beyond our control.”

I put it to the minister that this is not a game, and that the circumstances are not beyond the department’s control. This is a matter of national security, and the perpetrator was not a terrorist grouping but rather the very organisations legally tasked with the responsibility of regulating the storage and supply of water for Gauteng, as well as the rest of South Africa.

The Department of Water and Sanitation is well aware of the obstacles standing in the way of its goal to provide effective, sustainable municipal water services. The department’s own reports indicate that these include relying on a workforce with an increasing lack of technical skills, aging water infrastructure, increasing investment requirements, inadequate water resources, rising energy costs, competing political priorities within municipalities, and poor water services planning and prioritisation amongst others.

A 2013 Strategic Overview of the Water Sector in South Africa prepared by the then Department of Water Affairs reveals that few water service authorities practice proper management of their water services infrastructure and as a result there are regular service failures resulting in non-functionality of schemes, customer dissatisfaction, threats to health and financial losses. In addition, a presentation by Department of Water Affairs’ representatives at the 2013 World Water Week in Stockholm identifies Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, and Tshwane as being “highly vulnerable” water service authorities on a Municipal Strategic Self-Assessment of Water Services (MuSSA) vulnerability index of 17 priority municipalities.

In view of this, surely the Department of Water and Sanitation and Rand Water should be operating on high alert, and planning ahead to deal with possible scenarios capable of having a detrimental impact on Gauteng’s integrated water network. Black outs are not unusual occurrences, and neither is cable theft. The impact of incidents of this nature on the water supply system need to be fully understood, and contingency plans need to be developed to minimise the risk.

There are ample technologies – geospatial, mechanical and automative – available to facilitate the effective and efficient management of the country’s water supply, and these should have triggered alarm bells when pumping stopped and Gauteng’s reservoirs started emptying. It is not apparent though whether these technologies are being used in our integrated water management systems. Were alarms triggered? And what action was taken if these alarms were triggered?

The Department of Water and Sanitation and Rand Water have been entrusted with the responsibility of monitoring and managing our water resources and systems. Taking responsibility for what happened and ensuring that it does not happen again, is certainly within their control.

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