Debate on Makana water crisis

Dacre Haddon MPL

DA Member of the Eastern Cape Provincial Legislature

Honourable Speaker, Madam Premier, Members of the Legislature, Officials and guests,

Good Afternoon.

The recent water shortages which occurred in Grahamstown and surrounding areas must never happen again. This incident was of such a serious nature that it caused national embarrassment for this province;   which led to an urgent intervention from the President.

The Democratic Alliance welcomes this debate.

Water provision or a lack thereof is a public interest matter and the public need to be informed of the water situation in Makana.

The question begs. Why did the Makana Municipality and the Provincial Department of Local Government allow such a crises to take place?

This state of affairs is unforgivable given that water shortages in Grahamstown have been taking place for years. In view of this, there should have been better forward planning, departmental oversight and contingency processes in place to prevent such water shortages. It seems that the lesson of past experiences have not heeded when dealing with this water crisis. This negligence and incompetence leads to the violation of the constitutional rights of citizens to decent water provision.

Honourable Speaker yet again it was the impoverished and poor communities in the surrounding areas of Grahamstown who suffered the consequences of poor water services and sanitation.

This is totally unacceptable.

The department of Local government with Makana Municipality should be doing everything possible to lift such folk out of poverty and into a life of opportunity and redress; by having sustained access to quality water supply. In this speech, I wish to elaborate on 4 main issues that caused this crisis. The main problem was a lack of “gravity feed” of water to the end users.

Gravity feed is the downward flow of water from a reservoir to the taps of the end use.

This meant that important parts of Grahamstown such as the Monument, Prison, Army base, Rhodes Post Graduate Village and some 10 Rhodes university residences did not get reliable feed because these buildings were above the existing reservoirs flow base.

So, our first priority in solving this crises would be to build a large reservoir on the hill above the N2 next to the current Waainek water treatment plant.

Secondly, there are serious challenges around the managerial capability of water officials which has prevented the Makana Municipality to fulfil its role as both a Water Services Authority (WSA) and Water Services Provider (WSP). Frequently it is noted that the Waainek Plant is unmanned and the two dams of Slaaikraal are heavily silted.

Why have the dams been allowed to silt up?

Honourable Speaker, I am informed by consultants that electrical infrastructure at pumping stations at the two main stations are in a worse condition than the water.  The Amatole Water Board has lost its water accreditation. Therefore, how will they be able to oversee the water availability of Makana?

Besides, Amatole Water oversight is not going to have an impact if there is no competent staff to oversee water operators.

Thirdly, there is a lack of budget planning for major maintenance water infrastructure.

Let me illustrate this by example:

The budget for Technical Services and Water Section for Makana in 2012/2013 financial year was R149, 5 million. At financial year end (June 2013) only R72, 1 million or 48% of the budget had been spent. This is a shocking state of affairs and highlights the serious problems of water management capacity in Makana.

Lastly, Honourable Speaker, there is an ignorance of the understanding water affairs from the Makana political leadership. The committee chair of Technical Services when asked by a DA councillor if she had applied for a MWIG grant did not know what this was. The Municipal Water Infrastructure Grant is an essential tool to use to access infrastructure funding from national government.

In order to ensure that future water shortage problems do not re-occur there needs to be short, medium and long term plans in place. The initiative by Water Affairs Minister, Honourable Molewa on the 14th August in setting up an Inter-Governmental High level meeting committee between Makana municipality, the Provincial Department of Local Government and SALGA for an Action Plan of solutions   14th August is to be welcomed.

However, why was there such a late initiative by the National Minister?

Is this initiative not a case of: “Too little too late”?

However for this initiative to be effective it must be underpinned by managerial capacity within Makana Municipality, Amathole Water  Board and the department of Local Government. Managerial capacity and efficiency is the key to solving the crises. We appreciate the MEC in his report concurring that Makana is battling with sufficient skills and experience to effectively manage infrastructure.  This is the critical issue needing immediate action.

The Democratic Alliance suggests the following “quick win” solutions to alleviate future water shortages.

1) As previously mentioned a new reservoir above the N2 must be constructed.

2)  Reconnect existing water supply at Slaaikraal to Waainek which would allow for a third source of water availability.

3) A shortened power line be provided to Howisons Poort pumps via Thomas Baines Nature Reserve Eskom power line.  A mere 1 kilometre away.

4) Upgrade pumps at Howisons Poort.  These pumps are over 60 years old and need replacement not refurbishing!

5) Introduce rain water harvesting by laws.  The DA want these by-laws to be complemented by incentives on building plan costs and rates and discounts on rain-water harvesting to encourage water-saving.

Failure to address these “quick wins” and urgent managerial and capacity issues will scupper any infrastructural developmental plans to improve and expand water services in Makana and the surrounding areas.

The Amathole Water Oversight is not going to have any impact in solving the water problem unless competent staff can manage the day to day operations of water supply in Makana.

In addition, the proposed quick wins and short to long term plans must be implemented quickly and effectively.

This disgraceful situation of water stoppages in Makana must never occur again.

We must put this incident behind us and move forward with renewed vigour to supply high quality water services to the citizens of Makana municipality.