Recent reports of water tariff increases have had South Africans up in arms. However the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) has assured consumers that their economic standing will be considered first.
Speaking to infrastructurene.ws, Themba Khumalo, assistant director of media liaison at the DWS, clarified that the department itself was not increasing water tariffs. However it had set out broad draft guidelines for municipalities to consider when dealing with the issue of water tariff increases.
“We want the water tariff increases to be fair, so we are saying to municipalities they need to get in touch with the community, embark on a survey for example and find out the rate of employment in their areas and that can give them an idea of how to handle the water tariff increases.”
Water increases a necessary “evil”
The process of reviewing water tariffs is necessary according to Professor Mike Muller, a visiting Adjunct Professor at the Wits School of Governance and a Commissioner of South Africa’s first National Planning Commission.
“DWS reviews its prices annually. This is important to ensure that water users are not confronted with sudden huge price increases, as happened with electricity, “explains Muller
“The Revised pricing strategy continues with this approach. The main difference is that, in future, farmers will be required to pay the full operational costs of providing water from government schemes (they have been enjoying a subsidy until now). This is appropriate since water is increasingly scarce and farmers should at least pay for the maintenance of the schemes which supply them. On Vaalharts, for instance, the maintenance backlog now amounts to billions of rand.”
The guidelines follow a three-tiered model, with the first tier providing free water for the poor, the second tier providing water at a reduced cost and the third tier will be for those who can afford water and may need to reduce their usage.
“We are hoping that through these guidelines those who can’t afford to put food on the table are not burdened by water tariff increases and those who can afford to pay the increases don’t hide behind those who can’t,” Khumalo explains.
Funding new water infrastructure
Muller notes that there is also a proposal that water tariffs should include a national levy for new infrastructure.
“While this is intended to help poorer provinces and communities, it may have the opposite effect. For instance, if no new infrastructure is built in North West Province, water users there will still have to pay the levy.
“The Department also continues to delay setting up a national water resource infrastructure agency to develop and manage its schemes. Until that is in place, we will probably continue to see inefficient use of funds and delays in projects. It would have been preferable to establish the agency and then allow it to develop an appropriate funding and operations strategy.”