Despite being South Africa’s commercial capital, Johannesburg has become synonymous with water shortages since late 2023. Joburg Water’s constant planned outages and frequent unplanned shutdowns have left most parts of the city parched and angry. From the shanty towns to the more affluent areas, no one has been spared from this crisis.

By Sphiwe Mabaso

Residents in some suburbs of Johannesburg have been left high and dry, literally, as water shortages plague the city.

“Johannesburg is on the brink of a catastrophic water supply crisis. Rand Water and Joburg Water’s failure to adequately manage water resources has pushed our city to the edge,” said Dr Ferrial Adam, Executive Manager of WaterCAN.

WaterCAN feels that the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS), Rand Water, and Johannesburg Water are not effectively communicating with residents. Despite establishing a joint forum with these authorities and civil society in November to address the water crisis in Joburg, the organisation says there are still issues with clear communication.

“We have an established forum for the authorities to communicate with civil society and residents. It is completely frustrating that we have to chase these bodies for answers.  why can’t they bring this information to the forum where all structures are represented? Is protest the only language they understand?”

Adam highlighted the alarming reports of dangerously low reservoir levels, emphasising the immediate need for action: “The levels of reservoirs are at historic lows, posing a grave threat to the well-being of our communities.”

Some Joburg water reservoirs and towers were reported to be empty, with 14 at 10% or less.

“The impending water supply crisis in Johannesburg demands urgent attention and decisive action. We cannot stand idly by while our communities face the threat of water scarcity. It is imperative that we come together to demand accountability and work towards sustainable solutions.

“We cannot afford to wait any longer. Action must be taken now to avert a full-blown water catastrophe,” asserted Adam.

Authorities should fix leaks, not just charge customers more

WaterCAN has called for improvements to infrastructure and repairs of leaks by authorities instead of solely increasing charges for customers. They highlighted that the water board’s annual tariff hikes were presented in parliament during the water crisis.

“In late February, during the crisis, the water board’s annual tariff increases were presented in parliament. WaterCAN does not regard increasing the water tariffs as a solution and believes that both Rand Water and Joburg Water should prioritise repairing leaks to bring down costs and conserve precious water.

“It is interesting that Rand Water is planning to increase the tariffs, as this does not make sense. A key problem for water boards is that municipalities are not paying them fully. How does increasing the tariff help with cost recovery?” stated Adam.

Rand Water’s tariff proposal includes a 4.9% basic increase for municipalities, with an additional 1% increase to establish a Water Demand Management Fund, resulting in a total increase of 5.9%. This will raise the charge from approximately R12.68 per litre to around R13.43 per litre (plus VAT), effective from 1 July, the beginning of the municipal financial year.

“Johannesburg Water – which admits it is not collecting enough from its customers – then passes that increase on to those customers who are already struggling. Again, this is not a solution,” stated Adam.

The section 71 reports, which are the municipal quarterly financial reports submitted to the National Treasury, revealed that in October 2023, customers in the City of Joburg had outstanding water bills totalling R16.1 billion and unpaid sanitation bills amounting to R7.7 billion, both overdue for more than 90 days. These services are overseen by Joburg Water.

WaterCAN is hosting a crucial civil society Zoom meeting on Friday at  2 pm to discuss the Joburg water crisis. The meeting will provide a platform for concerned organisations to voice their grievances and demand accountability from water authorities.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *