S.African stupidity and uselessness: Unfolding water crisis in Johannesburg deepens as officials scramble for answers

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In the wake of the deepening water crisis in the city of Johannesburg, mayor Kabelo Gwamanda convened a crisis meeting to provide an update on the recovery of the collapsing water system in the city.

The emergency meeting on the evening of 12 March came as thousands of Johannesburg residents have been scrambling for water for almost two weeks.

On 11 January 2024, as Johannesburg Water stumbled to fix water faults it announced that the replacement of an emergency valve for the Sandton water meter was postponed due to unfavourable weather conditions, which prolonged residents’ suffering.

Two months later on Tuesday 12 March 2024, City of Johannesburg said Johannesburg Water teams’ investigations at the Rand Water Waterval Dal meter revealed that the meter reading indicated zero flow of water.

During Tuesday’s crisis meeting Johannesburg mayor Kabelo Gwamanda provided an update on the recovery of the water system in the city and assured Johannesburg residents that water would be restored on Wednesday.

He said Rand Water investigations will ultimately reveal how a crucial valve came to be closed and prevented water from flowing.

Johannesburg remains in the grip of a water crisis despite the city’s dams and reservoirs remaining at satisfactory levels. The Vaal dam sits at approximately 65% capacity, yet Johannesburg continues to suffer water shortages.

“Our dams and reservoirs can be full, but that does not mean that we have sufficient water because we are a water-scarce country,” expert and WaterCan Manager Dr Ferrial Adam said.

“The reality is that minor faults will affect an entire pump station or reservoirs and that will have far-reaching repercussions.”

Water leakages are another problem affecting the city supply and Rand Water has repeatedly stressed the importance of reporting such incidents.

“Leaks are a very huge problem. If we could fix that we could save a lot of money for municipalities for Johannesburg and the country as a whole. If you look at the No Drop report by government, non-revenue water includes leaks, non-billable water and theft of water. But the leakages are huge,” Adam continued.

According to Adam, Johannesburg is losing between 40% and 44% of its supply through non-revenue water. This means that up to 44% of fresh drinking water is being lost — of that 44%, 25% is being lost to leaks.

“And if you look at other municipalities it is a countrywide issue, so, this needs to be urgently dealt with. There has to be a war room approach to deal with the water challenges in the city and country,” said Adam.

The water problems in the city came amid soaring temperatures and official announcements encouraging residents to stay hydrated — a tall order for some with limited or no supply.

“We didn’t have water the entire day yesterday. It’s back now. But I don’t know how long it will be back for as far less is coming out of the taps than normal. It’s as if there is a blockade in the pipes,” Fikike Mabasa, a resident of Protea in Soweto said.

She said Jojo tanks which she shares with her neighbors do not cater for everyone’s water needs.

Jojo tanks (2) were provided to be shared by Mabasa and all the other residents in her street but the supply is short-lived.

Owner of the famous Sakhumzi Restaurant on Vilakazi Street in Orlando, Soweto, Sakhumzi Maqubela said, “It’s been a mess or it is a mess. We are in trouble as we have had to employ more hands to gather us water to clean dishes at the restaurant.”

But Sakhumzi Restaurant is among many businesses which have come under strain because of the water crisis. Sakhumzi Zoo Lake, another of Maqubela’s restaurants, which has been under construction and is set to open its doors on Thursday, has battled to contend with water difficulties.

“Two weeks ago when the Power Park reservoir was off, we were left without water for 24 hours in Eldorado Park and they refused to give us water tankers until I put up a fight and we received four trucks,” Eldorado Park ward councillor Juwairiya Kaldine told Daily Maverick.

“With that being said, should we be affected again, I will fight again,” Kaldine added.

Bordeaux residents say they have not had water since 1 March 2024, and that no water tanks have been provided.

Many areas in Soweto and as far as the Vaal do not have water or are experiencing very limited supply.

Contrary to Joburg Water’s announcement on Tuesday that most affected reservoirs at the Eikenhof Pump Station had recovered and were supplying residents with water, many areas remained dry.

The ongoing Joburg water crisis, affecting various suburbs, has been attributed to gravity and Eikenhof pump power outages, sparking frustration among residents and demands for urgent action. (Photo: Michelle Banda)

After 10 days with no water in their taps, Blairgowrie residents on Tuesday took to the corner of Conrad and Hillcrest streets to protest over access to water. Authorities had blamed the water cuts on power constraints and even gravity, as the suburb is located in a mix of low and high-lying areas. The community says it will continue with protests daily until they have water back in their taps.

Resident Elsbeth Dixon told Daily Maverick; “It all started close to two weeks back we were informed of an affected water flow from the Eikenhof reservoir due to power failure after being struck by lightning. As a result, we had low pressure on Sunday and Monday. On the same day, there was a major catastrophe at the Eikenhof pump station which resulted in no water at all as of Tuesday. It was said to be fixed but on Wednesday, there was still no water.”

The problem affected the vast majority of Blairgowrie and no tankers were supplied.

“It’s been very difficult to not have water and no one is giving straight answers as to when we will get water or what the problem is. There seems also to be no clarity on how the network of reservoirs is connected so that flow can be facilitated. So lack of information, direct communication from Rand Water to us — if it wasn’t for our councillor we would not know what was going on,” said Dixon.

Neighbourhood unity in response to water crisis
Another resident Niamh Faherty an events coordinator and mother to a three-year-old- old said amid the water crisis the community response has been outstanding and those who have water supply helped those who didn’t, in the absence of city tankers.

“They have offered borehole water and emptied swimming pools so people can fill and use toilets which is unsustainable and poses as a health hazard. And all we are told every day is water is coming, the reservoir will be filled tomorrow and tomorrow is not coming and that is not good enough. Without power, you can survive but without water, you cannot. It is everything from drinking water and washing to hygiene. The children are getting sick because of the gems and not being able to sanitise,” Faherty said,

A resident who did not want to be named added, “In my house, we are fortunate enough to have a Jojo tank. This is where we have been getting water from but other neighbours are not as fortunate and there have not been tankers either to help with supply in the time being. People have to run like crazies around in the suburbs looking for tankers or asking others with boreholes. Others are not even physically fit to carry water up and down the street. We help where we can but it is very inhumane. We are tired of the finger-pointing between Rand Water and Johannesburg Water — someone surely has to account. We pay our taxes for this very service we are not getting.”

DA Ward 99 Councillor Nicole Van Dyk, also shadow MMC for Water and Power in the City of Johannesburg told Daily Maverick that 25 of 26 suburbs including Blairgowrie have not had water since 9 March.

“When we had the Rand Water Shutdown last year Eikenhof was off for like 36 hours and they had to close the reservoir to conserve water but the impact was not felt as much in these areas. With this latest incident, there was an outage for four and half days intermittently, and no contingency plan was put in place to keep those reservoirs at a decent level. Most of the systems only recovered as of last Friday but others have not recovered. The last four days since Saturday I was told that Joburg Water was investigating. What we have had on a discussion with the Mayor is that unless Rand Water keeps its level at a stable pace to continue feeding into reservoirs 1 and 2 this will happen again. It’s on them now to keep their system up.”

Regarding water tankers, van Dyk says she was told only 25 tankers were available for the entire metropolitan area.

“My ward did not get tankers until last week Thursday which was already four or five days into it. As other systems started recovering we didn’t have to fight for tankers as they started coming in. We were told at a ‘special meeting’ last week that there are only 25 tankers for the whole city. At the time the power outage hit, 60% of the City did not have water and 25 tankers had to be spread right across a multitude of areas. Priority was given to hospitals and schools before getting to suburbs,” said van Dyk.

Bleak future
Despite the city’s actions having not met the level of the residents’ water frustrations, the future of the city’s water does not look good.

“Our infrastructure is far from being adequately managed. According to Treasury you should use 60% of the cost of the asset for maintenance and we haven’t even spent 2%. We have not done enough,’’ Dr Adam said.

While Adam would not say if the city’s water challenges have reached crisis level, she stressed that the water issue required urgent attention.

“Let me tell you why I say this. If you look at government’s own Blue Drop, Green Drop and No Drop reports, the future is very bleak. In terms of blue drop, which is your drinking water quality, we are seeing that almost 50% of drinking water systems in this country is not drinkable,” she said.

“If we look at wastewater treatment works, almost 70% are regarded as critical or in a concerning state. What that means is that you’ve got high levels of sewer flowing into our rivers and streets and eco-systems and polluting the rivers. Add to this ageing infrastructure, mismanagement and corruption as we have seen in Hammanskraal,” she said.

Read more in Daily Maverick: ‘Mister President, our biggest problem here, is water,’ Hammanskraal residents tell Ramaphosa

Adam said Rand Water, as a licenced and bulk supplier, should take 70% responsibility and Joburg Water 30%.

Rand Water has applied for an increase in the tariff despite not having recouped a lot of money owed by municipalities.

“It does not make sense for Rand Water to increase the tariff when they have not recouped the money owed by municipalities,” said Adam. DM

Source: https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2024-03-13-unfolding-water-crisis-in-johannesburg-deepens-as-officials-scramble-for-answers/

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