South Africa

R500m flushed down the drain due to water meter tapping in eThekwini Municipality

R500m flushed down the drain due to water meter tapping in eThekwini Municipality

DURBAN - About 51% of the potable water available to eThekwini Municipality over the past financial year was consumed free of charge because of meter tampering and illegal connections.

That was one of the revelations made in the Auditor-General’s report released last week.

Late last year, the municipality placed a newspaper advertisement, endorsed by City manager Sipho Nzuza, which asked funding institutes to submit proposals for a R500-million long-term loan to the entity.

Yet if the City had prevented the illegal tapping of water, it could have potentially earned as much as R500m from paying customers.

That was the estimated value of the water (51%) that was drawn illegally during the period in question.

The water losses would be a smack in the face for ratepayers living to the north of Durban, especially in places like Tongaat, Verulam, KwaMashu and Ntuzuma, where disrupted water services have been the ebb and flow of their daily lives in recent months.

With the outages in those areas known to run for as long as five days at a time, residents have complained that the city had not dispatched water tankers and other support services efficiently enough.

DA councillor Yogis Govender, who is an executive committee member focusing on community service issues, said the municipality had shown a complete lack of competence in maintaining and managing its water resources.

She claimed that while some areas had experienced water problems dating back to 2013, those problems were exacerbated when the city failed to hire contractors to service and maintain its water infrastructure for nearly a year and a half.

“The problem-riddled water and sanitation department has been reeling from serious infrastructure failures due to mechanical and engineering contracts not being renewed or concluded since August 2018.”

Govender said mechanical and engineering contracts were only signed in December.

She said to compound matters, the municipality purchased some water tankers that were not fit for purpose as they had not been fitted with the correct tanks or fittings to draw water from various sources. Therefore, they were left unused at the Springfield depot for almost two years.

“The majority of the approximately 120 tankers the city has, service about 98 scheduled areas in eThekwini that are without water supply.

“The balance of the tankers have to service the 110 wards that may experience unplanned or unforeseen outages.”

Govender said the services provided by the tankers were erratic. They were usually dispatched at odd times that were not convenient for residents, and were not user-friendly for people with disabilities and child-headed households.

She said supply to the disabled and those living in areas where the tankers cannot reach could have been serviced with water sachets.

However, the expensive water sachet plant that the city procured has not been used for more than a year since it broke down.

Govender also revealed that telemetry instruments that are able to track remotely the levels of water at reservoirs were now non-functional.

“It results in water running out completely, residents complain, then technicians are sent out. This is a knee-jerk reaction. It takes a reservoir six to 12 hours to refill and when there is load shedding, the problem is compounded because the pumps can’t work.”

Govender said she knew of reservoirs in the Tongaat and Verulam areas that were badly affected.

“A tower in Verulam, where a dead body was found recently, was most problematic. The supply is not meeting the high demand.”

Govender said formal housing and informal settlements have grown in the area, but the capacity of the reservoir has not increased.

“Communities of Tongaat and Verulam have been long forgotten by the city’s top-level management.

“Everyone has a constitutional right to access sufficient food and water,” said Govender.

SUNDAY TRIBUNE