Policy Papers and Research: Water and Sanitation

Policy Papers and Research: Water and Sanitation

Trialogue research found that 24% of CSI spend on housing and living conditions went towards water and sanitation in 2019, with 30% devoted to building houses – the greater priority in the sector. Ten companies reported CSI expenditure on housing and living conditions. [Read more on Trialogue’s research into CSI in Water and Sanitation]

The following policy papers and research provide some insights into the policy framework.

The Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) leads and regulates the water sector in South Africa. It is governed by the National Water Act (1998) – part of the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA), 107 of 1998 – as well as the Water Services Act (1997).

The 2018/19 Annual Report of the Department of Cooperative Governance indicates that:

  • Nationally, percentage of households with access to tap water in their dwellings (off-site or on-site) increased by 4.6% between 2002 (84.4%) and 2018 (89%).

  • Households with access to at least basic sanitation (VIP pit latrines) improved from 61.7% in 2002 to 83% in 2018.

  • An average of 26 1818 households per reporting municipality received free basic water in 2017/2018.

  • As per the Community Survey of 2016, 15 municipalities had below 50% of their households with access to piped water, and 10 of these were from the Eastern Cape.

  • The current rate of delivery of reliable water services to households is well below the estimated required rate of 105 882 households per quarter. Some 560 385 households have been served since 2014.

Relevant Acts and Policies

  • National Water Act (36) of 1998

    This Act ensures that water resources are protected and managed in a sustainable manner by the appropriate institutions. It promotes an integrated catchment-based approach to water resource management.

  • Guide to the National Water Act (36) of 1998

    This user-friendly guide, aimed at both water users and those working in water resource management, describes the purpose and principles of the National Water Act, as well as the strategies and institutions proposed to achieve its goals.

  • Water Services Act 108 of 1997

    This Act primarily ensures right of access to basic water supply and sanitation. Water service delivery is the responsibility of local government, as Water Services Authorities (WSAs). According to the Constitution (Act No. 107 of 1996) and the Water Services Act, water service delivery is a core responsibility for local government, whether as a water services authority or a water services provider.

  • Strategic Framework for Water Services (2003)

    This comprehensive policy for water services sets goals for access to services, education and health, free basic services and institutional development and performance. It addresses the full spectrum of water supply and sanitation issues.

  • National Water Policy Review (2013)

    Water policy positions are outlined in this review, along with indications of how to overcome the water challenges faced by DWS and South Africa, and how to improve access to water.

  • National Water Resource Strategy Second Edition (2013)

    This document indicates how water supports development and reduces poverty and inequality, and how it should be used and managed more equitably and sustainably.

  • National Sanitation Policy Draft (2016)

    Government needs to ensure that basic sanitation services are extended to every citizen, including unserved households and vulnerable people – and this policy draft emphasises the importance of this.

  • Sustainable Development Goal 6

    This global goal ensures the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. Goal 6 was reviewed in-depth at the high-level political forum of 2018.

  • Water Leaders: A new Model for Water Access

    The World Economic Forum (WEF) gave the Global Agenda Council on Water the mandate to develop a new economic model for water access in June 2014. This paper reveals the results of that mandate.

  • Minimum Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure – Sanitation

    The South African Schools Act 84 of 1996 – Regulations Relating to Minimum Uniform Norms and Standards for Public School Infrastructure stipulates the basic level of infrastructure that every school must meet in order to function properly.


South African Research

  • South Africa’s 20-year journey in water and sanitation research

    In 2014, the Water Research Commission produced this publication, which sets out the progress made in water and sanitation research over the past two decades, and the sector’s transition from apartheid to democracy.

  • Overview of the South Africa Water Sector

    This 2000 induction manual provides a broad overview of the water situation and the water sector in South Africa,  as well as the challenges faced by the sector.

  • Water & Sanitation Research Brief: Monitoring the Implementation of the Commission’s Recommendations from its 2014 Report on Access to Water and Sanitation

    This 2018 report from the South African Human Rights Commission sets out to evaluate the implementation of the recommendations made in its 2014 Report, and provides a set of revised recommendations based on the findings.

  • To what extent does socioeconomic status still affect household access to water and sanitation services in South Africa?

    This 2018 article identifies the socioeconomic factors that may affect poor water and sanitation services provision in South Africa, asserting that identifying them will provide policy direction and better-targeted water infrastructural development. Shortfalls in services are unevenly distributed across provinces and can be tracked by socioeconomic status.

  • Water: Facts and Futures – Rethinking South Africa’s Water Future

    WWF-South Africa’s Freshwater programmes have been working in South African catchments for almost two decades. Their 2016 report on the current status and future of our water system looks at the facts behind the nation’s water and how to ensure a sustainable water future.

  • Report on the Right to Access Sufficient Water and Decent Sanitation in South Africa: 2014

    This 2014 report on Water and Sanitation is based on the South African Human Rights Commission’s systematic and extensive work undertaken in fulfilment of its mandate on these rights since 2010. It concludes with recommendations on how to improve the state of access to water and sanitation in the country.

  • Our World in Data: Water Use and Stress

    This report, published in 2015 and updated in 2018, identifies global fresh water use across various sectors and categories. It includes detailed data and graphs on freshwater use (global and regional), renewable freshwater resources, agricultural water withdrawals, irrigation, industrial water use, household water use, water stress and scarcity, and what determines how much water we use.

  • Reducing Water Consumption

    The Western Cape Government has mapped out a Sustainable Water Use Journey that will help business and the public to reduce water consumption.

  • The Struggle to be Ordinary

    SERI, the South African Cities Network (SACN), the National Upgrading Support Programme and Constitution Hill launched a short documentary on sanitation for women with disabilities living in informal settlements. An open panel discussion followed the screening in August 2019.


International Research

  • Quality Unknown: The Invisible Water Crisis

    The World Bank’s report on water quality indicates that water quality challenges are not unique to developing countries, and poor water quality threatens growth, harms public health and threatens food security.

  • Strategy for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene 2016-2030

    UNICEF’s report places water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) at the core of its mandate for children, since poor hygiene, open defecation and lack of access to safe water and sanitary systems are the leading causes of child mortality and morbidity.

  • WASH in Schools

    The WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene has expanded its global databases to include WASH in schools.

  • SDG 6 Public Dialogue Report

    UN-Water prepared the first Sustainable Development Goal 6 Synthesis Report on Water and Sanitation in 2018. It reviews the current situation and trends regarding water and sanitation at global and regional levels.

  • Water, sanitation and hygiene and health: A primer for health professionals

    This 2019 World Health Organization document guides health professionals who engage with WASH-related issues – it gives an overview of WASH interventions and the status of WASH services globally. It also outlines key linkages with health, and key actions that health actors can take to ensure WASH efforts protect public health.

  • Modeling sewage leakage to surrounding groundwater and stormwater drains

    Underground sewage pipe systems deteriorate over time, resulting in cracks and joint defects. Sewage thus leaks out and contaminates the surrounding groundwater and the surface water in stormwater drains. Many studies have investigated the problem of sewage leakage, but the authors of this 2012 paper have examined the hydrologic interactions between leaky sewage pipes, groundwater and stormwater drains.


Read more: Policy Papers and Research: Water and Sanitation

Status of Access to Water and Sanitation

The Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) General Household Survey (GHS) of 2018 indicates that there were 13.8 million households with access to piped water, compared to 9.3 million in 2006. Around 46.3% of households had access to piped water in their dwellings. A further 28.5% accessed water on site, while 12.3% relied on communal taps and 1.9% on their neighbours’ taps. However, 2.7% of households still had to fetch waters from rivers, streams, stagnant water pools, dams, wells and springs in. About two-thirds (62.4%) of households rated the water services they received as ‘good’.

The Department of Water and Environmental Affairs introduced two incentive-based regulatory programmes in 2008: the Blue Drop Certification Programme for Drinking Water Quality Management Regulation and the Green Drop Certification Programme for Wastewater Quality Management Regulation. However, reports have been published sporadically, with the 2014 Blue Drop report released in 2017. The report showed that the total number of water systems achieving Blue Drop status decreased by 55%.

The Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) reports that, by mid-2019, 60 million people had just 27% of the water in South Africa to use for consumption – 2.5% was directed at mining, 3% to industrial use, 2% towards power generation, and 61% taken up by agriculture. An increasing population compounds the problem, as does continuous drought (South Africa is the 30th driest country in the world). Water scarcity is further challenged by pollution (such as industrial effluents, domestic and commercial sewage, acid mine draining, agricultural runoff and litter). Only 65% of South Africans have a reliable water supply and quality water delivery is declining on an annual basis.

Proper sanitation is one of the key factors in improving environmental sanitation, which prevents the spread of disease. According to the GHS of 2018, 83% of households in South Africa have access to improved sanitation – up from 61.7% in 2002. Flushing toilets connected to public sewerage systems were most common in urbanised provinces like the Western Cape (89.1%) and Gauteng (88.6%). Only 26.5% of households in Limpopo had access to any type of flush toilet. Some 70.2% of households in Limpopo use pit latrines, along with 40.3% of households in the Eastern Cape. Around 1.1% claimed to use bucket toilets. Only 0.3% use ecological toilets. While 76.2% of households said their members wash their hands with soap and water after using the toilet, only 67.5% said that they had easy access to facilities that permitted this.

DWS has rolled out its National Water and Sanitation Master Plan, a roadmap for the integrated planning implementation of water and sanitation projects across the water value chain.

< Return to Context: Water and Sanitation in South Africa

Context: Water and Sanitation


Context: Water and Sanitation in South Africa

According to the United Nations, access to water and sanitation is a basic human right. Targets for both feature under Goal 6 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), advocating for the ensured availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation.

“Lack of access to safe, sufficient and affordable water, sanitation and hygiene facilities has a devastating effect on the health, dignity and prosperity of billions of people, and has significant consequences for the realization of other human rights,” the UN points out.

Chapter 4 of the National Development Plan (NDP) indicates that secure and equitable access to water and sanitation are catalysts for socioeconomic development. The absence or deficiency of water infrastructure compromises health and hygiene, which can lead to the spread of disease. As of 2016, about 1.65 million people lacked such infrastructure, while 1.98 million had access to infrastructure below minimum standards.

> Read more about the status of access to water and sanitation in South Africa

Why invest in Water and Sanitation?

Aside from being vital to life and health, water is also integral to the development of the country. However, the ailing water sector will not be able to achieve its goals without assistance. According to Kopano ya Metsi’s 2019 report Unlocking Water Investment in South Africa, the water sector funding gap is R330 billion over the next ten years, with major infrastructure refurbishment and improved maintenance required. Many water institutions are not creditworthy and accumulated municipal water debt is now over R13 billion, which means that increased private sector investment is needed to help maintain water security in the country.

Although CSI cannot close the water sector funding gap, it can help to support vulnerable municipalities to strengthen their water supply models – critical to water security in a water-scarce country.

Current weaknesses within the water sector are:

  • Lack of attention to maintenance and sustainability.
  • Relative neglect of sanitation issues.
  • Government’s inability to sustain funding levels in the water sector.
  • Lack of capacity and skills on all levels.
  • Improper or lack of forward planning.

Recommended Resources

  • Water ‘wars’ wash over the world

    The Pacific Institute, a US-based think tank, says more people around the world are fighting over water, with 21 water-related conflicts during the past 30 years occurring in South Africa.

  • Summary of water-related challenges in South Africa 2018

    This summary, compiled by the Federation for a Sustainable Environment (FSE), outlines the central challenges facing DWS.

  • R900 billion plan is the ‘best option’ to stop South Africa’s water crisis: government

    Minister Sisulu says her department’s R900 billion water master plan is the best option to address the crisis and provide water security for South Africa in the coming decade.

  • SA more worried about poor lighting than hygiene of shared toilets

    This 2018 article about World Toilet Day points out that six out of every 10 people in the world (about 4.5 billion) do not have a toilet at home or one that hygienically disposes of waste. Access to proper sanitation is vital for human dignity. As this 2019 article points out, for learners, a safe and clean toilet is as necessary as a textbook.

  • Coronavirus: Washing hands is not easy when you have no running water

    According to the 2018 General Household Survey, 89% of households in South Africa has access to piped or tap water, but there has been a decline in provinces like Limpopo (from 84% in 2010 to 74% in 2018). This 2020 article shows the challenges of handwashing during a pandemic without access to a continuous supply of clean, running water.

  • Crisis proofing South Africa’s water security

    This 2018 article about South Africa’s water security points out that nearly every region in the country has experienced some form of drought and water shortages since 2013.

  • President Cyril Ramaphosa: Sanitation Appropriate for Education Initiative

    In an address at the launch of the ‘SAFE’ School Sanitation Initiative in Tshwane in 2018, the president explained how companies could get behind affordable and sustainable sanitation solutions for schools. However, only 266 out of 3 898 schools have benefited from the campaign to date.

  • Breaking the Cycle: Uncovering Persistent Sanitation Challenges in Gauteng Schools

    This 2018 report by Equal Education illustrates how the Gauteng Department of Education’s approach to school infrastructure, specifically sanitation, has shifted over the past five years, with greater emphasis placed on the need for decent sanitation.

  • How Cape Town overcame the 2018 water crisis

    Cape Town’s water restrictions allowed it to cut peak usage by more than half in three years.

  • ‘There could be a 17% water supply and demand gap by 2030’

    In this 2019 interview on 702, Eusebius McKaiser, Trevor Balzer (advisor to Minister Lindiwe Sisulu) and Christine Colvin (World Wildlife Fund South Africa freshwater programme manager) discuss the country’s water crisis. There are still three million South Africans without access to treated drinking water within 200m of their house, and 14 million without decent sanitation. 

  • New report outlines the dire consequences of corruption in water sector

    Corruption Watch and the Water Integrity Network (WIN) released its global Money down the Drain report, which highlights the consequences of corruption in the water sector (including in South Africa). 

Read more: Context: Water and Sanitation

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