46% of South Africa’s water is undrinkable

46% of south africa’s water is undrinkable

46% of South Africa’s water is undrinkable

The Blue Drop Audit Report by South Africa’s Department of Water and Sanitation, designed to ensure accountability for safe drinking water, paints a bleak picture of water quality and infrastructure.

The audit exposes worsening water quality in South Africa, with 46% of water supply systems posing acute human health risks because of bacteria or other pathogens in the drinking water supply.

Additionally, over two-thirds of wastewater treatment works are nearing failure, and 47% of all clean and treated water is lost through leaks, or cannot be accounted for.

While this year’s report showed that the overall risk had dropped from 52.3% in 2022 to 47.15% in 2023, only 26 of 958 water supply systems achieved Blue Drop certification – meeting 95% of clean water criteria.

Water supply systems operating beyond capacity

Several water supply systems are operating beyond capacity, and monitoring and compliance are severely lacking, the report found.

In areas where water supply systems are in “poor and critical” condition, 46% don’t comply with microbiological standards. In these water supply systems, drinking water is contaminated by sewage and bacteria.

Viruses and parasites such as Legionella and Cyanobacteria may have grown in the piped water systems and/ or water sources.

These present acute health risks, such as gastro illnesses with diarrhoea usually being the prime symptom. Other primary waterborne illnesses can include cholera, dysentery, hepatitis A and typhoid.

Another problem the report highlighted was that more than half of the country’s municipalities (57%) do not notify water users when they discover that the water has been contaminated. Not issuing notices or warnings of contaminated drinking water places citizens at risk of contracting waterborne illnesses.

Personnel, training and funding needed

The report attributes poor water plant conditions to technical and management capacity deficiencies, highlighting the need for 400 qualified personnel and training for 67% of staff in water treatment works.

Despite infrastructure investments, issues with water supply systems persist, including non-payment, vandalism, and theft, resulting in defective infrastructure, inadequate water purification and a lack of monitoring and skills.

The report suggests that R1.5 billion is needed to address these challenges.

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