South Africa Water Board Requires $14.9 Billion to Fix Backlog

  • KwaZulu-Natal’s Umgeni Water needs funds for dams, pipelines
  • About 16% of province’s 11 million people have no access

The water board serving South Africa’s second most-populous province said it needs at least 200 billion rand ($14.9 billion) to address a service backlog, almost double the country’s total budget for water and sanitation for the three years through 2019.

“The real headache is where the funds are going to come from,” Shami Harichunder, a spokesman for KwaZulu-Natal province’s Umgeni Water, said by phone Thursday. The board services metropolitan areas including Durban, the country’s largest after Johannesburg and Cape Town.

The figure comes from a study on water security by 11 municipal authorities in the province and another two in the neighboring Eastern Cape that showed that 121 billion rand is needed to build bulk water infrastructure including dams, water-purification plants and pipelines, and a further 100 billion rand for reticulation, Harichunder said. The report didn’t probe how to recover the revenue from consumers, he said.

Faced with rising debt and slowing tax revenue, the National Treasury is trying to reduce municipalities and state-owned companies’ reliance on government guarantees for debt funding and increase private investment in municipal infrastructure. The Treasury estimates 132 billion rand of spending on water and sanitation infrastructure in the three years through March 2019, it said in the 2016 budget. This excludes grants and conditional loans.

Water Access

About 16 percent of KwaZulu-Natal’s 11 million residents didn’t have access to piped water by 2015, while one in four people in the Eastern Cape were unserviced, the highest proportion in the country’s nine provinces, Statistics South Africa data show. As much as 63 percent of those living in some of the municipalities surveyed are affected by backlogs, Harichunder said.

Less than half of spending on water is budgeted for, leaving a 385 billion-rand funding gap, the national Department of Water Affairs said in 2013.

In 2015, South Africa suffered the worst drought since records started in 1904, decimating crops and livestock. Dryness continued last year, forcing the country to become a net importer of corn, a staple that the country is the continent’s biggest producer of, for the first time in 2008.

KwaZulu-Natal’s dams were on average only 47 percent full because of the drought as of Jan. 30, below the national average of 55 percent, the Department of Water Affairs and Sanitation said on its website.