Research has shown that every 20 (twenty) seconds, a child dies as a result of poor sanitation. That is 1.5 million preventable deaths each year . Lack of access to sanitation or poor facilities create a conducive environment for growth of disease causing bacteria, worms viruses and other undesirable micro-organisms. These are small organisms that spread beyond their breeding spaces through vectors such as insects, water runoff, animals, dust particles and even direct contact through touching contaminated surfaces. Lack of access to clean and safe water exacerbates the problem as people cannot wash their hands, cleanse their leaving spaces, utensils and clothing. Those with access to water but poor sanitation facilities may find themselves facing serious health threats as return water may be contaminated and become a vector itself for spread diseases.
In September 2002, the World Summit on Sustainable Development added access to basic sanitation as part of the millennium development goals as a centrepiece for poverty eradication. The target set was to halve the number of people without access to sanitation by 2015. South Africa went beyond that and took a bold step by committing to all people having access to basic sanitation by 2010. Government created an enabling environment and committed resources to achieve these targets.
In the light of the above and understanding the constraints that exists in South Africa in terms of skills shortage, Umgeni Water went beyond its mandate and developed a strategic pillar for Water and Soci-economic Development. The strategic objectives underpinning this pillar are:
- Strategies 4&5 aimed at contributing to National Development Agenda & Reduction of Backlogs
- Strategy 6 relating to job Creation & Contribution to BBBEE
An integral part of strategies 4 and 5 is to provide Health and Hygiene education and ensure community participation and ownership. The education drive also mainstreams gender issues noting that women in vulnerable communities are at the coalface of challenges associated with poor hygiene conditions; take the burden of caring for the sick, having to raise children and ensure their survival under trying conditions. Other issues that are always taken for granted are lack of privacy due to absence of decent and lockable facilities and lack of facilities to dispose of waste including sanitary pads. The recently reported cases of young lives that were lost in the Eastern Cape (OR Tambo District) associated with waterborne diseases are some of the many that add to the national and global statistics and yet systems operate on “business as usual” and the status quo remains.
Apart from job creation as a poverty eradication initiative, Umgeni Water’s strategy 6 focuses on women empowerment and being sensitive to issues of disabilities. This is at the heart of all our programmes as Umgeni Water has a social conscience as an organisation and further obligated by the country statutes to respond accordingly. One cannot overemphasise the gains from the multiplier effect arising from little investment in the vulnerable communities by giving them skills, placing them in labour intensive programmes, allowing them to gain experience and later become absorbed in the formal economy as productive workers. Enterprise development is about taking this further and building sustainable business to benefit the previously disadvantaged and ensure that they in turn build other enterprises.
Umgeni Water’s social agenda therefore recognises challenges relating to access to basic water and sanitation facilities while at the same time responds to the scourge of poverty and unemployment.
2. Umgeni Water’s Contribution
In ensuring successful implementation of the abovementioned strategic objectives, Umgeni Water established the Social Development Department in 2004. The unit falls under the Operations Division and operates throughout KZN to support District Municipalities, Department of Water Affairs & Forestry and the Department of Education. The board of Umgeni Water and EXCO further called on all individuals to think of innovative ways to contribute towards this broader agenda through a mindset of “Business Unusual”. Following the old adage that says it is the little things that count, Umgeni Water can only remain relevant by creating value to the shareholder through this unfunded mandate. It go without saying, value is created through synergy; harnessing technical, financial, social skills to achieve great results with minimal inputs.
The evidence of effective leadership provided from the top and collaborative actions of different divisions is presented in the table below (it is all about eradication backlogs and poverty):
|Project Name||Local Municipality||Household Served||Population Served||Project Status|
|KwaHlophe Sanitation Project||Ndwedwe LM||450||3,600||Completed|
|Woza-Masiwela Sanitation Project||Maphumulo LM||450||3,600||Completed|
|MaQumbi Sanitation Project||Maphumulo LM||965||7,720||Completed|
|Ozwathini Sanitation Project||Ndwedwe LM||1,940||15,520||Completed|
|Swayimane Sanitation Project||uMshwathi LM||1,831||14,648||Implementation|
|eMakholweni Sanitation Project||eMkhambathini LM||540||4,320||Implementation|
|Ndaleni Sanitation Project||Richmond LM||864||6,912||Implementation|
|Magoda Sanitation Project||Richmond LM||530||4,240||Implementation|
|Stoffelton Sanitation Project||Impendle LM||603||4,824||Implementation|
|Thendele Sanitation Project||Mpofana LM||143||1,144||Completed|
|Total No. of Households Served||8,316|
|Programme Name||Programme Description||Number of Schools||Number of Toilet Seats||Number of Beneficiaries||Project Status|
|DoE Phase 1||Water & Sanitation in Schools||39||684||17,360||Completed|
|DoE Phase 2||Water & Sanitation in Schools||15||450||13,594||Completed|
|DoE Phase 3||Water & Sanitation in Schools||40||671||16,330||Completed|
|DoE Phase 4||Water & Sanitation in Schools||7||105||2,855||Completed|
|DoE Phase 5||Water & Sanitation in Schools||12||145||4,256||Implementation|
|DWAF Phase 1||Water & Sanitation in Schools||44||481||12,769||Implementation|
Umgeni Water has further successfully completed the following programme on behalf of the KZN Department of Education:
Construction of 14 laboratories, 8 libraries 3 computer rooms and 7 varied combinations of laboratories, libraries and computer rooms including renovations of 16 Historically Disadvantaged Boarding Schools.
3. Future Plans
It is still our policy to have Ventilated Improved Pit (VIP) latrines as basic standard for provision of sanitation. Our position is informed broadly by considerations on environmental issues notably water scarcity, threats from pollution of receiving water bodies; the rising cost of water and energy to pump and treat wastewater; the high cost of laying infrastructure in areas that do not provide opportunities for economy of scale and bad terrain.
We will however actively engage our partners and other stakeholders such as academia, Department of Science and Technology, Water Research Commission and international players to find even better and safe dry sanitation options. The short to medium term approach will be to engage in extensive education campaign and investigate environmental friendly bio-augmentation agents to prolong the useful life of existing VIP structures. Options of physical removal of sludges and safe disposal will be applied where possible. We will further endeavour to move people to the second rung of the ladder for safe water and sanitation provision if resources and conditions permit.
4. What Can You Do to Help
We encourage you as a South African citizen to take broader view on the challenges of providing sustainable services to all and get involved directly or indirectly. Your input in whatever form is invaluable in making South Africa to be the best places to live in:
- Contribute information on sustainable sanitation solutions (see contact details below);
- Visit rural/previously disadvantaged areas within our operational area and give motivational talks, advice and/or any form of contribution in kind around sanitation and hygiene promotion;
- Conserve water by using it sparingly, recycle as much as you can, collect rain water for secondary uses, sort out leaks, report burst pipes and surcharging sewers;
- Do not pollute rivers and water ways as this denies others access and may pose danger downstream; and
- Save energy and contribute towards saving national resources and thereby freeing up money to fund other pressing needs such as water and sanitation.