Water is Life: Crisis revealed as KZN spends just 2% of drought relief funding

By Ann McDonnell, MPL, DA KZN Spokesperson on Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs (EDTEA):

THE word ‘crisis’ is often used – and words that are used a lot lose their impact. With this in mind, we need a stronger word for the precipice KZN is facing when it comes to water.

The Umvoti River and both the White and Black Umfolozi rivers are dry.  The Buffalo River has stopped flowing and Hazelmere Dam is around 20% full.  Pictures in today’s Witness show the dreadful state of our water storage dams. Having just done the road trip to Mozambique and Swaziland, the picture there is just as bleak.

Since we are attempting to close the stable door while the horse is trying to bolt, I will use today’s debate to offer possible solutions to this massive problem.  The people of KZN are looking to us – our people are suffering.

We must find solutions.

Now is the time for real Leadership in our province. Now is the time to lead by example and educate our people in the way we use water.

Everything we do must be interrogated.  How much water is being used in activities such as mining, energy generation, industry and manufacturing and even printing of the copious documents we get burdened with in the Legislature?  All of these are ‘waterholic’ activities.

While we need these activities for job creation it cannot be at the expense of the lives of people and their food security.

The DA believes that water shortages are the result of poor water management, poor infrastructure management and inadequate contingency planning for drought.  These are ANC failures.

Increased drought and flooding were foretold by various Climate Change congresses yet government carried on with business as usual.

Today’s debate on a motion from the IFP’s Hon Msimango is most relevant at this time. It may sound trite to say that there is no life without water, but it is the truth.

The vast areas in KZN that are without water birthed the successful province-wide DA campaign – Water is Life earlier this year.  The DA still receives calls from desperate people as a result of our campaign.  In March we handed over petition to this Legislature which included suggestions aimed at alleviating the crisis. To date there has been no engagement on this issue.

We must therefore ask – how serious is the ANC about the people who have been waiting for water for years, some of whom are even being charged illegally for precious water by tanker owners and operators?

Our water supply, which has until now been taken for granted, is by no means guaranteed.  Accelerated climate change and global warming means we will go through more severe periods of drought and flooding – both of which are extreme and disastrous to people and infrastructure.

Our immediate responsibility is to store and protect this precious resource in times of decent rainfall.  There may well come a time when there is no rain, when crops fail and famine sets in mainly affecting poor rural residents

The question is – what can we do right now?

  • Firstly, we must urgently get drought disaster relief funds to the people who need it most.

Premier Mchunu applied for disaster funding for KZN in July 2014.  Yet, according to a recent response to a DA question in the National Assembly only 2% – a mere R8million of the R352million grant issued by the Department of Water and Sanitation – has been spent. This does not sound like a government that cares. We need to find out where the blockage is and get the money to those who are facing starvation, loss of livestock and crops.

  • We must clamp down hard on illegal connections, under-reading of meters and those who destroy infrastructure for the purpose of getting free water.

In eThekwini the financial loss reported by the A-G for 2013/2014 was R602.6 million – 237 million litres a day – money that could be used for service delivery.   We cannot continue undervaluing water losses.  The Metro has admitted they are not winning the war against vandalism of infrastructure and water theft.

In Newcastle, water losses are estimated to be as high as 70% – this is completely unsustainable.

The DA-led Cape Town Metro responded proactively to this, drastically minimising water leaks by installing remote read smart meters which can also flag consistent leaks and wastage.  This has saved millions which are being pumped into planning and infrastructure for the future. Through strong visionary leadership water losses are down to 14.5% compared to a national average of almost 30%.

  • We must deal with pollution from broken water treatment works.

Overburdened plants at Mpophomeni are currently impacting on Midmar which is a huge threat to our scarce resources. Hibiscus Coast, Umhlatuze and many others have all recently had large sewerage spills, destroying wet lands or rivers and impacting on tourism and the environment.

COGTA need to own this problem and insist on regular inspections and stand-by generators for pump stations in the event of load shedding or a power failure.  What has happened to the Municipal Water Infrastructure Grant for the storage of water – how and where is this being spent?

In the long term, desalination is the answer.  In the interim we should also work towards using appropriate grades of grey water or partially treated water.  Why is clean, potable drinking water being used for the huge demands of mining, industry and electricity generation? Clean water should be used for humans and their food production – a very different concept to accept.  Again, strong leadership is needed to change people’s behaviour.

To wrap up – KZN’s water supply is in crisis and this Legislature must act quickly and decisively.

We all know how our economy has suffered through Load Shedding under the ANC.

I can assure you, water shedding would present a far bigger problem.

There can be no priority more urgent.