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Human Rights Commission must investigate drinking water crisis

The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA) has lodged a complaint to the South African Human Rights Commission, calling for an investigation into maladministration within the Department of Water & Environment (DWS), which threatens drinking water supply and quality in South Africa.

The complaint followed after OUTA became aware of the department’s continual failure to monitor and enforce compliance of water services institutions in terms of its Constitutional mandate, as per section 195.

According to OUTA, water management is deteriorating annually and the root cause of the problem is a lack of monitoring and enforcement by government.

“Having access to sufficient healthy water is a basic human right as written in our Constitution,” says Julius Kleynhans, OUTA’s Portfolio Director: Water & Environment. “The people of South Africa should feel confident that their water quality and supply is able to support population and economic growth.”

OUTA’s complaint also exposes human rights violations related to excessive pollution by municipal sewage being discharged into rivers and dams, which is well above acceptable levels. “The majority of drinking water supplied by municipalities to citizens is from rivers and dams. If a municipality fails to adequately treat sewage, water users and municipalities downstream may be affected by the contaminated water,” Kleynhans added.

According to the most recent data from the DWS:

  • 76% of municipal drinking water systems fail to comply with drinking water quality standards through chemical compliance and 20% with microbiological compliance as indicated in the 2014 Blue Drop Report;
  • 93% of our wastewater treatment systems do not comply to discharge standards according to the 2013 Green Drop Report. Current figures on the DWS website indicate that in March 2017, 3,7 Mega Litres (3,7 Billion litres) of wastewater is discharged every day, effectively polluting our rivers and drinking water supplies, placing the health of millions of South Africans at risk.
  • 36.4% of treated drinking water is lost due to leakage within urban infrastructure indicated by the 2012 Non-Revenue Water Report;
    The Custodian and Regulator indicated that the lack of monitoring or enforcing compliance is because of limited human and financial resources, yet the Minister left R2 billion of her budget 2014/2015 unspent.
  • 98% of all water in South Africa has been allocated to demand and it is mentioned we will need 32% more water to cater for future needs by 2030. Unfortunately, the Minister has delayed the Lesotho Highland Water Project Phase 2 extending the date of operation to possibly 2026, which is now several years behind the initial plans to meet Gauteng’s water demands.

OUTA believes this has become a human rights issue of serious proportion and it is of concern that civil society organisations are having to hold Government to account for not doing its job. We trust the public will realise the dire consequences of this issue and will get behind OUTA to fight for their rights.

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Download the Executive Summary here

Download the SAHRC complaint here

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