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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). 

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