Effluent was discharged into the Palmiet River earlier this week

The Palmiet River.

South Africa’s rivers and dams are running dry and farmers remain disgruntled at the sights of parched land, however that is not enough for Water and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane to declare the crisis as a national disaster.

According to Mokonyane, she alone does not have the authority to declare a disaster until all concerned parties, including National Treasury and the department of co-operative governance collectively agree that the country is experiencing a national disaster.

The drought, which hit its two-and-a-half year mark at the beginning of October, has severely affected eight of SA’s nine provinces. A drought declaration was affirmed for Gauteng in early October, however the remaining eight provinces continue to battle with maintaining a sustainable water supply.

Gauteng is not in the clear

Briefing Parliament’s portfolio committee on the department’s annual report, Mokonyane said stringent measures were being implemented countrywide. This included allocating 15% less water to municipalities in order to further decrease water consumption for October.

Earlier this month, stricter water restrictions were implemented in Gauteng as a result of the fast declining water levels in the Vaal River system, and Johannesburg was urged to further reduce its water consumption by 15%.

Mokonyane urged municipalities to focus on saving water and said that Mogale City was the only Gauteng municipality that successfully decreased its water consumption.

“Gauteng will get their water back when they behave,” she said.  If the province could save enough water, the Vaal’s levels would return to normal within the next year or two, she added.

Mokonyane said the declaration of a national disaster was also not going to be a “quick fix” as the release of all the necessary funds was not guaranteed as money would have to be reallocated from other programmes.

R1,3 bn of the department’s R1,7 bn was also spent on hiring a contractor to assess the water crisis last October, the minister said. This was declared as “irregular expenditure” as the hiring did not follow normal protocol, however, Mokonyane stressed that irregular expenditure was not the same as wasteful spending.

All spheres need to help curb the crisis

Mokonyane reiterated that water restrictions that were implemented thus far were not effective, therefore Gauteng was forced to “make do with 85%”. She also encouraged municipalities to “enforce your by-laws”.

Mokonyane added that everyone, including local and national government was responsible for solving SA’s water crisis by working together to solve the problem.