Johannesburg Water’s haemorrhaging supply continues to dry up leaving desperate residents pleading for relief
Fractured infrastructure has exacerbated Joburg’s water crisis, leaving taps dry in many communities and forcing people to skip personal hygiene in an effort to conserve supplies.
South Africa’s richest metro, Johannesburg, is battling a water crisis with some residents living for over a week with dry taps. Many people have been forced to resort to almost extreme measures in a bid to survive.
Those with the financial means have had to buy water, drive as much as 10 kilometers to beg from neighboring areas, frequent gym to take showers and simply limit their usage.
Meanwhile, those with limited or no financial means have had to preserve the little water they are able to source, opting not to shower and forsaking personal hygiene as a result of the municipality’s failure to provide alternative sources of water through water tankers.
Joburg residents’ hunt for water
One resident from Cyrildene, Sandra Amadio has been without water since 14 September 14, 2023. Prior to this, the Cyrildene area, which gets its water from the Berea reservoir, had been having water cuts since January.
Explaining her plight, Amadio said the water cut happens, “for an average of four days per month, almost every month. Some areas have no water for two weeks at a time”.
“Water tankers have only started rolling out since today. I personally live uncomfortably and tide myself over by filling various water containers for cooking, cleaning, bucket baths and flushing toilets. I’m able to go to the gym to shower. Though it’s disruptive, at least I have that option whereas others don’t. Everyone’s morale is down.”
Meanwhile another resident, Funginkosi Schriber, said she had to purchase a minimum of three 5-litre water bottles, which cost about R100 a day, in order for her family to drink. The figure triples when water also has to be used for basic necessities like bathing and flushing the toilet.
“We no longer bathe every day because water is expensive. We’ve also taken a decision to relieve ourselves at work and gym because regardless of the water supply being intermittent, our water bill remains the same.”
In a statement on Friday, Johannesburg Water attributed the water outages to a power failure at Zuikerbosch Water Treatment Plant which affected most of the city’s reservoirs.
“As a result, most of the systems lost storage capacity and are currently critically low to empty,” read the statement.
Johannesburg Water said it was monitoring the situation and also indicated that an alternative water supply had been arranged for the affected customers and would be placed at strategic locations. Residents however said this had not been the case and remain in limbo on the location of the water tankers.
Midrand resident Leon Govender, who has been without water for three days said, “This is no way of living, it is really bad, there is load shedding and now, there is no water, what kind of situation is that?”.
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Like other residents, Govender indicated that water tankers had been nowhere to be seen for three days.
“We were given a list of places to go and fetch water from water tankers, but there were no tankers at all.
“Last night, a water tank came through but the water ran out without everyone getting some water. Even now, people are still looking for water, waiting for a water tanker, which may or may not come,” Govender said.
Johannesburg water previously blamed residents for consuming large amounts of water amid hot temperatures. Water expert, Dr Anthony Turton however said this should not be the case.
Read more in Daily Maverick: South Africans urged to use water sparingly as rolling blackouts hit precious resource
“We cannot blame the consumer for the plight that they find themselves in. It is simply untenable to do that, it indicates bankruptcy of clarity of thinking about the problem, so I reject that,” said Turton.
Municipalities must fix infrastructure
Experts have warned that as much as 60% of the water that is pumped into Johannesburg Water is lost through poor and failing infrastructure, which was part of the reason for the intermittent supply.
“It is not the citizens that are at fault, it is the municipalities that are at fault, and they are now deflecting responsibility onto citizens, if the municipalities start to fix up the 60% of water that they are losing, they start billing for the water, and they start paying for the water, then Rand Water can do what it is meant to be doing.”
Speaking to BusinessDay TV, Rand Water CEO Sipho Mosai said the entity did anticipate a total collapse of the water systems and was hard at work in a bid to mitigate against any potential collapse.
“There is plenty of water, we supply close to 70 million consumers in the municipalities through the bulk reservoirs that we have…”
When probed on the challenges, Mosai echoed views of water experts that the bulk of water being lost was due to leaks and non-revenue.
“It is an open secret that in the distribution space and in municipalities about 60% of the water we supply is lost through non-revenue water and through leaks and really puts pressure on the system and that is why you have pockets of suburbs in certain areas without water,” said Mosai.
Turton also poured cold water on speculation that a recent stormwater surge in the city, which affected several reservoirs, could have been a huge contributing factor.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Financially distressed Tshwane battles with ongoing strike, water shortages and service delivery failures
“A storm is a short-term shock to the system. The fact is that Rand Water is pumping to the limit of its capacity, that is a long-term effect. It has taken 20 years to get to that point,” said Turton.
“Rand Water is as big as it can get and now behind that problem is technically a very serious problem which is that all the water in the Vaal system has already been allocated, there is no more water to allocate even if the dams are full.”
Johannesburg residents have been urged to observe level 1 water restrictions, which were implemented from 1 September 2023 and are expected to last until 31 March, 2024.
“These restrictions prohibit the use of hosepipes to water gardens, wash cars, clean driveways, as well as filling up of swimming pools and water features between 06:00 and 18:00. Instead, the use of greywater is encouraged,” Johannesburg Water said.
Major metros impacted
Johannesburg is not the only metro affected by the crisis — Tshwane finds itself in the same position. On Friday, the city’s spokesperson, Selby Bokaba said their bulk water supply system had improved following the thunderstorm and subsequent power trip that affected Zuikerbosch Water Treatment Plant.
“Furthermore, Rand Water informed the city that their Klipfontein Reservoir, which supplies the Hartebeeshoek Reservoir, has improved and water will be released to the Hartebeeshoek Reservoir which feeds the Soshanguve, Ga-Rankuwa, Mabopane and Winterveldt areas. The city expects to see some improvements in the affected areas following the release of water by Rand Water,” he said.
This week, Daily Maverick reported that the SA Human Rights Commission feared that a water supply disaster was looming in several parts of KwaZulu-Natal unless municipalities were forced to fix and maintain their dilapidated pipelines, pumps and other crucial water supply infrastructure. DM