The water crisis in the Nelson Mandela Bay Metropolitan Municipality has reached unprecedented levels, with the average combined capacity of the five major water supply dams in the district at 14.73%.
The municipality is now considering revising its multimedia campaign to raise awareness of water consumption, which does not seem to succeed in getting the message home that consumption continues to rise.
Read: How the water crisis is drying up local businesses
Early last year, the municipality brought in its development entity – the Mandela Bay Development Agency – to help craft and disseminate a brief message on water consumption across all media platforms, with the aim of encouraging residents to use water sparingly, but the communication does not appear to have been effective.
Despite acknowledging the crisis, Joseph Tsatsir, director of water distribution for the Nelson Mandela Bay municipality, categorically declared that the metro would “never” face a complete shortage of drinking water.
He told City Press:
Yes, we may have a serious water problem, but we’ll never reach Day Zero, even if local dams run dry. We will continue to receive approximately 210 megaliters of water from the Garib Dam, which will be shared equitably via the metro.
With a population of 1.5 million, the metro – which consists of Gqeberha, Kariega (formerly Uitenhage), Despatch and the surrounding areas of Seaview and Colchester – now contains only 9.31% of the potable water of the five water supply dams: Impofu, Churchill and Koega, Loeries, and Groendal.
Although drought has played a role in exacerbating the water crisis, experts say there are things that – had the municipality addressed – could have mitigated the problem and prevented it from becoming a crisis.
Read: Where will the water come from?
Institutional failures, such as the lack of regular maintenance of the aging water infrastructure, the lack of professional management of the water system and the procrastination in making important decisions have also contributed greatly to the current desperate situation in the metro.
The metro has also suffered from political instability since the introduction of coalition policies in 2016. Since then, there has been a revolving door in coalition government, with some members remaining in office for as little as six months. The metro has had five mayors since 2016.
Last July, Water and Sanitation Minister Senzo Mchono formed an intervention task force whose requirements included finding a solution to the water crisis. Headed by renowned director Pam Yako, the team was also tasked with finding solutions to water augmentation and drafting a water master plan for the metro.
The Yako team identified institutional weaknesses as among the causes of water shortages.
In our assessment of the situation, we found that although drought was a factor, there were other things the municipality should have done to mitigate the water crisis. For example, no lessons or planning were learned from Cape Town’s water shortage, even when there were signs that Nelson Mandela Bay was next in line. There was also procrastination in making important decisions.
Our three-pronged brief: To help the metro avoid day zero, coordinate the various entities involved and start addressing long-term measures aimed at creating a sustainable water management system that will prevent a recurrence of such a crisis.
We cannot say that the water crisis was caused by only one thing. “It was a combination of several factors,” Yako said, adding that the municipality’s communication strategy with residents had been ineffective.
The entire metro should have used 230 million liters of water per day, but now it uses about 271 million liters per day, with each resident allowed to use 50 liters per day.
Read: Act now before South Africa runs out of water
However, the population exceeds these established limits.
Water leaks also contributed greatly to the metro crisis, as it lost 36% of its water in this way. On average, 2,000 water leaks are reported per month, and 1,800 of them are repaired in the same period.
Metro Communications Director Stimpiso Suayaya said the annual budget allocated to the water and sanitation department, which was intended to repair water leaks, was insufficient.
The annual operating and maintenance budget for the Water and Sanitation Division is R1.7 billion. Given the backlog in water infrastructure maintenance and competing service delivery needs, this budget is not sufficient
Tsatsir said they are now switching the water supply from individual homes to stand-alone community taps that can be accessed by everyone in those areas.
“This is to make sure that all metro residents share the few water resources we have,” he said.
Water tankers are common even in affluent areas, where they are parked in shopping centers waiting for residents to come to fetch water.
The municipality has now embarked on a well sinking program for which R50 million has been allocated, with 11 wells already sunk. NGO Gift of the Givers is helping with the project.
Read: The climate change bill needs teeth
Rainwater harvesting using water tanks has also been introduced.
Build a school
The Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber, whose membership includes some 700 businesses small and large, has launched an initiative called Adopt a School, which seeks to fix the mostly broken water systems and infrastructure in schools in the townships.
To date, 73 schools have been adopted by 18 companies.
Most of the residents of Nelson Mandela Bay feel frustrated and believe that they are being denied a basic human right proclaimed by the United Nations.