By Jonathan Osborn / Candidate Attorney / Mooney Ford Attorneys
The Constitution of South Africa states that “everyone has the right to have access to sufficient food and water”.
The Water Services Act 108 of 1997 provides that:
- Everyone has a right of access to basic water supply and sanitation;
- Every water services institution must take steps to realise these rights;
- Every municipality must plan, in its Water Services Development Plan (otherwise referred to as “WSDP”) to realise these rights;
- This right is also recognised by the United Nations Human Rights Council.
WHY ACCESS TO WATER AND SANITATION IS IMPORTANT FOR ONE’S DIGNITY
In our Constitution, all rights are on an equal footing, and they are interconnected. For example, the availability of water is crucial for effective learning in schools and obtaining an education.
The absence of water and sanitation access leads to numerous adverse consequences such as:
- The proliferation of avoidable illnesses such as diarrhoea and cholera.
- Students are more likely to discontinue their education in the absence of bathroom facilities.
- A rise in the utilization of healthcare facilities.
- Decreased work attendance and productivity.
THE ROLE OF THE SOUTH AFRICAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION
South Africa is afflicted with some of the most severe levels of poverty and inequality with approximately 16 million individuals living in impoverished conditions lacking proper sanitation facilities. 3.5 million people are facing a similar predicament when it comes to access to clean water.
The South African Human Rights Commission (otherwise referred to as “SAHRC”) is an independent committee which has been established by our Constitution to monitor, protect and promote the fulfilment of Human Rights in South Africa.
The authority of the Government is derived from the people and consequently the Government’s primary duty is to serve the interests of the population. Those in positions of power should attentively heed the concerns of the underprivilege and formulate effective solutions to address their needs.
Despite having constraints in terms of capacity and resources, the SAHCR can collaborate with other Chapter 9 Institutions and non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) to support communities and guarantee that the government fulfils its service obligations.
WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR DELIVERY OF WATER & SANITATION?
Municipalities are responsible for the service delivery of water and sanitation. There is a duty upon the Municipalities to draw up clear plans for such service. Water resources must be managed by the National Government.
In accordance with our legal framework, it is acknowledged that the Government is not obligated to instantly extend these services to every individual. Nevertheless, they are required to establish a well-defined strategy with specified schedules and financial allocations for the provision of these services and the enhancement of accessibility. The Government must undertake this task without compromising any other fundamental rights.
Numerous local Governments engage in private firms in service provision. Service Delivery Agreements represent the contractual arrangements between municipalities and these companies, outlining the expected services. The municipality remains ultimately accountable for these services and should ensure that these companies fulfil their obligations. Furthermore, these contracts should be accessible to the public for transparency and information purposes.
WHAT SHOULD THE GOVERNMENT PROVIDE?
Amongst other services, the National Government should provide at least 6000 litres of water per month to every household and at a rate not less than 10 litres per minute. This point should be provided for within 200 metres of each said house. The National Government should ensure that no individual is without water for no more than 7 days per year. The Government ought to furnish a toilet or a ventilated pit latrine that is secure, dependable, ecologically sustainable, low-maintenance, affords privacy, shields against the elements, ensures proper ventilation, minimizes odours and deters the entry of disease-carrying pests such as flies.
It is the responsibility of citizens to demand accountability from both the Government and contracted parties. Water is a limited and precious resource that should be preserved. It is your duty to engage in prudent and frugal water usage to ensure its conservation.
HOW DO I GET HELP?
You are entitled to receive cost-free services and you also have the right to be informed about the reasons for not receiving satisfactory services.
It is essential to report any issues or challenges you are experiencing to your Local Municipality, Ward Councillor and Community Development Worker.
The SAHRC and other Chapter 9 Institutions and NGO’s will be able to provide the necessary channels to follow.