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Free water to come to an end?

By Staff Writer
The policy allowing households to receive 6 000 litres of free basic water per month could soon be coming to an end. This is following an investigation by the South African Local Government Association (SALGA).
According to a report, SALGA is currently conducting a cost study which is looking at all of the services provided by municipalities. The findings of this study, according to the report, may determine whether or not municipalities continue providing free basic water to poor households.
Ernest Sonnenberg, City of Cape Town Mayoral Committee Member for Utility Services, revealed: “South Africa’s waters are governed by the Water Services Act of 1997 and the National Water Act (NWA) of 1998. The Acts are complementary and provide a framework for sustainable water resource management while enabling improved and broadened service delivery. The City of Cape Town is currently supplying 6 000 litres [per month] basic allocation to all domestic customers.”
Sonnenberg added: “As a caring city, we are committed to assisting our residents in accessing basic services such as water, sanitation, electricity and refuse, as is required by the constitution. Furthermore, additional free basic services are provided to the indigent households in terms of Council-approved relevant policies and budget.”
Access to free basic water
The Western Cape Government explained: “The aim ultimately is to provide poor households with a basic supply of 6 000 litres of safe water per month free of charge. This might vary from municipality to municipality and you should contact your municipality directly to find out exactly what the free basic water service is that they provide.
However the Western Cape Government said that you are required to pay for water that is used over and above the free supply.
Sonnenberg added: “Currently the methodology is that all users receive the free basic allocation. Those who use more water will end up effectively paying for their free allocation when they enter the higher steps of the tariff structure. For this reason a decision to stop supplying everyone with free water might go hand in hand with a reconfiguration of the stepped tariff.”
The Department of Water Affairs and Forestry highlighted that this 6 000 litres does not extend to flushing toilets.
“Where consumer units are utilising flush toilets, the amount of free water per capita per day should be in the range of 35 [to] 40 litres in order to enjoy the benefits intended by the free basic water policy,” they said.
Determining who gets free water
However, an issue arises in defining who is poor and, therefore who should receive this free basic access.
“There is currently no commonly accepted definition of a poor household in South Africa,” according to a document released by the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry.
The implementation of the free basic access to water will differ according to municipality, as each municipality has its own “organisational capacities, income and service level profiles.”
Where a household does not have access to a basic supply of water, however, the provision for a free basic supply cannot take place. In order to address the problem of households not having access to a basic water supply, the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry has noted that more must be done to provide people with access to a water supply.
To find out how Cape Town determines who gets free water, click here

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