A third of South Africa’s municipalities have dysfunctional wastewater treatment works, but despite a looming drinking water crisis, the department of water and sanitation has failed to spend a massive R2 billion of its budget.
The department’s request to the Auditor-General that the amount be rolled over to the next financial year has been refused, which means its allocation in the new financial year will be R2 billion less.
Department spokesperson Sputnik Ratau said the reduction in budget meant that the department would have to rethink its spending on products and infrastructure.
Leon Basson from the DA said he feared the underspending would halt sorely needed projects, such as the Nooitgedacht water scheme, which is supposed to supply water to the Nelson Mandela Bay metro. The project has been delayed repeatedly because of a lack of funding and is due to be completed within two years.
But Ratau was confident it would still be completed on time and the financial hiccups around it had been ironed out with Treasury.
Besides the backlog with water infrastructure works, Water and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane has still not released the Blue and Green Drop reports for 2014, which measure the quality of drinking water as well as the state of affairs at the country’s water-treatment plants.
Ratau could not say when the overdue reports would be released. “That’s up to the minister,” he said.
As a member of the portfolio committee on water and sanitation, Basson regularly visits problem areas where wastewater works are dysfunctional.
“In Cradock in the Eastern Cape the sewage spills into the nearby Great Fish River and, in Humansdorp, sewage floods the streets,” he said.
North of Pretoria, the Rooiwal wastewater treatment plant is polluting the Apies River. The boreholes are filled with E. coli and toxic waste; sanitary pads and condoms are pumped out on to municipal grounds.
The department recently acknowledged that more than R800 billion would be needed over the next decade to upgrade dysfunctional water infrastructure countrywide. This translates into R81 billion per year – much more than the R55 billion Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene allocated for this purpose in last week’s medium-term budget.
Meanwhile, South Africa is experiencing one of its worst droughts in years, and towns in North West, including Lichtenburg, Schweizer-Reneke and the Madibeng municipality, are facing severe water shortages.
Steve Hedden, one of the authors of a report on water shortages that was released in September last year and conducted by the Institute for Security Studies, told City Press South Africa’s water demand was already exceeding supply.
“According to the report, the demand is 15.5 cubic kilometres, while the supply stands at 14.4 cubic kilometres. But the situation could be even worse because we based our calculations on data that was already a few years old,” he said.