CORPORATE SOCIAL INVESTMENT
The province of KwaZulu-Natal has the highest population in the country, including resource endowments such as water, fertile land and climate. The province, however, is confronted with serious challenges in terms of poverty, HIV/AIDS, low literacy rate, unemployment, and water and sanitation backlogs. These challenges have a direct impact on living standards and development and as such more people have sunk even deeper into poverty. Although it ranks third in the country in terms of percentage of population living in poverty, the province ranks highest in head count including the poverty gap. It is estimated that 5,7 million people live in poverty with a poverty gap of over R18,5 billion.
The poverty gap reflects the amount required to move people from below the poverty line.
Umgeni Water’s Response
In its strategic review, Umgeni Water reflected upon the role it has been playing in dealing with these challenges and the impact it has made over the years. There was general consensus that the organisation needed to intensify its role in water and socio-economic development interventions and thereby become a lead partner in the national developmental agenda. This resulted in Umgeni Water’s driving force shifting from being product-based to being people-centred with a bigger social agenda put on the mainstream. In this reporting year, the thrust was in doing “business unusual” to tackle the ills of poverty, provide sustainable water solutions, implement more sanitation projects, raise environmental awareness, create job opportunities, and provide engineering and project management skills to deliver on non-related business in support of government’s initiatives.
Actions Taken and Projects Implemented
Umgeni Water has proactively engaged the iLembe and uMgungundlovu District Municipalities, and the KZN Department of Education, to extend and grow partnerships in service. The commitment was based on understanding the challenges on the ground and limitations that exist within different spheres of government. The approach taken on provision of water was to move away from MIG-funded rudimentary schemes to extending bulk infrastructure to cover unserved areas. This was based on the realization that a lot of effort, money, and skills were invested in schemes that provide temporary solutions which ultimately cost more money and increase the health risks. Many cases of frequent breakdowns, poor water quality and drying-out of water sources have been reported. Umgeni Water stepped up delivery of sustainable solutions based on its KZN strategy (see section on Infrastructure Development page 30). The other areas of focus were the household sanitation, school water and sanitation programme, health and hygiene awareness programme and the curriculum upgrade programme.
The household sanitation programme was implemented in partnership with iLembe and uMgungundlovu District Municipalities, the Provincial Health Department and committees. The schools programmes were implemented in partnership with Department of Education officials and School Governing Bodies. The approach focused on stakeholder engagement, local economic development, labour-intensive implementation of projects, gender mainstreaming, skills transfer and health and hygiene education.
Stakeholders were engaged from project inception and planning to ensure effective participation, alignment and ultimately ownership. The councillors, iZinkosi and iZinduna, for respective areas were engaged to outline the objectives of the project and solicit their input and commitment in the implementation of the projects. Other government departments such as the Department of Health and the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry were part of the planning to ensure a holistic approach in terms of health issues, groundwater and broader policy issues. The responsible water services authorities were project sponsors and Umgeni Water championed the management aspect of the projects as an implementing agent. Umgeni Water experienced challenges with stakeholder fatigue when some volunteers pulled out along the way. Some committee members stepped down once they realized that the governance instruments opposed their personal agendas. Many conflicts and problems were dealt with under the household sanitation programme, e.g. builders demanding higher wages, suppliers wanting to make super-profits, alcohol abuse and absenteeism, householders rejecting the applicable designs, materials shrinkage, access problems, and so on. The nature of the programme, being community-based, is such that problems and conflicts will always prevail and hence requires a balanced approach instead of only technocratic solutions.
Support to Local Economic Development:
Umgeni Water uses small local suppliers from the areas it works in under the household sanitation programme (community-based approach). The suppliers are recommended by the community and the councillor in line with their LED initiatives. They comprise co-operatives for block-making, building of concrete slabs and toilet seats (using moulds), and other suppliers of materials such as cement, sand, roof-sheeting, doors and stones. The school water and sanitation and the curriculum upgrade programmes use a conventional project-based approach and therefore engage in the competitive tender process. The programmes, however, involve preferential procurement and empowerment of historically disadvantaged individuals as a key focus. The table below reflects impact in terms of total spend over the reporting period