SA Government’s commitment to universal access to water

“Water is a public good in the most practical way. However, the sustainable provision of water to everyone is still a challenge facing the country. The huge disparities remain, but our most urgent responsibility is that of providing water to everyone”.

This was recently said by the Minister of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation, Ms Lindiwe Sisulu during the State of the Nation Address debate at the National Assembly.

Minister Sisulu explained that the launch of the comprehensive National Water and Sanitation Master Plan in November 2019 was the beginning of ensuring the equal and fair provision of water to every citizen of the country. She said that various stakeholders in the water sector, including agricultural unions, provided inputs to the Master Plan and were with one voice reiterating the concept of “water for all”.

“We regard our Master Plan as a transformation charter for the water and sanitation sector. This is our attempt at addressing the disparities of our past, giving direction to where we are going and ensuring that the disadvantaged are given priority. Large sections of our people in the rural areas go without water for weeks, further entrenching the divide between those who have had, those who have and those who continue to wait,” said Minister Sisulu.

Minister Sisulu further referred to the creation of the National Water Infrastructure Agency and said it will sustain and improve the performance of all strategically important water supply systems in regions where water security is at increasing risk. The Agency will work jointly with municipalities, water boards, financial and mining institutions, and the agricultural community.

Another important issue mentioned by the President in his SONA is a delay in issuing water licenses. Minister Sisulu explained that there is a programme in place to improve the systems. She said there is a commitment to finalise any new and compliant water license applications between 70-90 days, as opposed to the three years’ time frame it used to take.

Minister Sisulu reiterated her commitment to turn around the Department of Water and Sanitation. She said a fully-fledged Disciplinary Committee is working hard to investigate and root out any maladministration, fraud and corruption and to also look at audit findings and any other misconduct related matters. She said the Department is winning its legal cases one at a time and has adopted a culture of zero tolerance for corruption.

Concerning the COVID-19 scourge, Minister Sisulu said the pandemic highlighted the challenges of access to water and sanitation in South Africa. However, in partnership with water boards and municipalities, a roll-out of water emergency water provision afforded the communities in the disadvantaged areas to have access to clean water.

Minister Sisulu however lamented the disruption of the water projects and wastewater treatment plants due to vandalism of infrastructure. She encouraged communities to report any vandalism and look after assets installed by the government to ensure the provision of essential assets. Despite all the good rains in some parts of the country, which resulted in improved water levels to the national dams, Minister Sisulu said South Africa remains a very dry country. She urged the communities to continue to save water. She said investigations into innovative ways of using groundwater, desalination and cloud harvesting will continue to augment water in the country’s reserves. – SA Government Media Release

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