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| Last Updated:12/03/2014

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SAHRC releases water and sanitation report, 11 March 2014


The South African Human Rights Commission has today released a report on the challenges with regard to the right of access to Water and Sanitation in South Africa.


The report titled: "Water and Sanitation, Life and Dignity: Accountability to the People who are Poor", was handed over to government representatives, Minister of Human Settlements, Ms Connie September and Deputy-Minister of Water Affairs, Ms Rejoice Mabudafhasi at a public launch held at the St Georges Cathedral in Cape Town.


The report is dedicated to the 6-year-old Limpopo pupil, Michael Komape whose parents were in attendance at the launch. Young Michael became a symbol of government's failure in providing proper sanitation in schools when he fell into a pit toilet at his school in Chebeng near Polokwane and died. It is also dedicated to all those who were injured or killed during popular service delivery protests and many South Africans who struggle to live a dignified life.


The report which is a culmination of three years on intensive investigation and hearings across the country, reveals a number of alarming findings, notably that in many provinces there is still a lack of access to any form of water and sanitation infrastructure, which we believe is one of the triggers of the recent violent protests in the country.


The report also found provincial hotspots of complete non service delivery. It was found that these hotspots were the same desperately poor and mostly black regions, townships, homelands, and villages that were disadvantaged under the apartheid era.


These areas were set up away from key resources and were neglected when it came to infrastructure and basic needs. These historical homelands suffer the same lack of delivery and corruption they did 20-years ago.


Problems related to the provision of water and sanitation services also include a lack of budgets, poor revenue collection, a lack of technical , management and business skills, political interference, corruption and unclear municipal powers and functions.


Another huge problem the Commission found is that water is seen as an economic commodity rather than a human right. Large-scale agriculture, mining and other industries use most of South Africa's water at a relatively lower cost per kilolitre than poor households.


Water should not be a luxury. We believe that government needs to adopt a human rights-based approach to water.


Among the recommendations in the 80-paged report includes:


The bucket system should be eradicated as soon as possible in all provinces. The relevant government departments should agree on plans with clear timelines for the eradication of buckets in all existing settlements. This plan must be communicated to affected communities and the Commission once finalized;


School and water - many schools do not have access to water and sanitation. The provision of water and sanitation to schools needs specific and urgent attention. A plan should be made available to all schools and civil society organizations. The Department of Basic Education must ensure that its new norms and standards for schools infrastructure make the provision of clean drinking water and dignified sanitation to schools, compulsory within specific timeframes. It cannot be right that in Khayelitsha for example, of the close to 1500 schools, only 12 had soap and toilet paper. And what happened to Michael Komape cannot be allowed to happen again.


Need for accountability - government must ensure meaningful consultation with affected communities. Guidelines for public participation must be developed and it should be made simpler for people to access information. An essential element of the integrated development plan is public participation, which we found was almost non-existent


Transparency - local and district municipalities need to start making their annual reports more public, to aid transparency. The waters are still murky when it comes to the public being able to access information.


Indigent policy - this policy allows municipalities to target the delivery of essential services to people who are poor. Currently it makes provisions for, among others, a minimum of 6 kilolitres of water per household per month, a ventilated improved pit latrine or toilet connected to a septic tank or to water-borne sewerage. As it stands, a citizen applies for these provisions only if they register themselves. But many people do not register as they fear it will affect their social status.


Others simply don't know that such a policy exists. We recommend that the Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs, and the Department of Social Development must ensure that the national indigent policy makes provision for the poor to access basic services. This policy should be revised so that services are provided to whole areas of poor populations, rather than individual households.


Without adequate sanitation facilities, people will continue to face indignity and violence of poverty. A lack of water also impacts other human rights including the right to dignity, education, health, safety and environment.


We call on government and Parliament to ensure that this report and its recommendations are acted upon, and accountability is tantamount to ensure the Constitutional right to basic needs is extended to every citizen.