Informal settlements only use 4% of municipal water

Millions of women in Africa spend long hours collecting water. Photo by Mandla Mnyakama

Throughout the water restrictions in Cape Town there has been a narrative that accusses the black working class in townships of wasting municipal water. The accusations have gotten worse after the City of Cape Town introduced level 5 water restrictions which entail a ban on all uses of municipal drinking-quality water for outside and non-essential purposes. Out on fact-finding mission, Elitsha found out that people in informal settlements only use up to 4% of total of municipal water.

Guguletu, Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

The City of Cape Town has praised residents who responded with good co-operation with its continuous appeals on the reduction of water wastage amid the ongoing water crisis in the city.

The municipality also encouraged these residents who are complying with the Level 5 restrictions to continue with the trend. Level 5 restriction is to consume no more than 87 litres of municipal drinking water per person per day and less than 20,000 litres a month.

Informal settlements were commended by the City for being among the most ‘efficient’ in this regard.

Xanthea Limberg, Mayoral Committee Member for Informal Settlements, Water and Waste Service, and Energy said informal settlements used less than 4% of their municipality’s total water supply while making up to 14% of the total residents.

Limberg said formal houses make up the remainder and used approximately 65% of the water supply. The average informal household is, then, about three times more water efficient than an average formal household.

Whilst appealing to residents of informal settlements to continue to minimise (water) wastage, she revealed that the water dam storage levels are currently at 37.2% with usable water at 27.2% while collective water consumption stands at 614-million litres per day.

“The City of Cape Town thanks those residents who have truly gone to great lengths to save water on a daily basis and ensured that they stick to their allowance of 87 litres per day.

“We know we have many water ambassadors in this city who hold one another accountable with regard to water saving. However, we cannot ignore the stubborn excessive users who are now under the spotlight as part of our new level water restrictions.

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“We are also looking at fining domestic users who are constantly using more than 20,000 liters per month. As the municipality, we are pulling out all the stops to go after the water abusers who seemingly have no issue with paying a high tariff for using a lot of water,” she concluded, demanding the commercial sector, where water usage has not declined, to bring their annualised consumption down by 20% immediately or face penalties.

She said more tenders will be released in the coming months, but ”in order to ensure that water in our dams last long enough to implement these schemes, we need residents to reduce their combined home, office and other consumption to 87 litres per day.”

Residents have been advised to adjust their stopcocks to limit water flow to their properties.

Nontle Gobingca, a resident of Europe Informal Settlement in Gugulethu, said that while they acknowledge the municipality’s sentiments on the issue in order to ensure water conservation in informal settlement, the authorities should deploy its personnel to run educational sessions on the matter.

“The constant warnings have also immensely concerned us too because water is an essential resource especially in the squalid conditions we live in. The authorities should also get residents to reprimand young children [for being careless with water].

“I sometimes have to shout at toddlers whom I find splashing each other openly with water from our nearby communal tap.

“In other instances I find certain residents getting me anxious by leaving our communal taps gushing uncontrollably after they have collected water from them and [despite that] we are forever desperate for this natural asset not just for bathing but for cooking and doing our laundry.

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“Its difficult for me to imagine the type of mess we can find ourselves in if we discover those taps running dry tomorrow, said Gobingca .

Bukelwa Dyasi (41) of Vukuhambe Informal Settlement in Nyanga also demanded that the municipality punish those who behave negligently with water.

“Maybe people can learn something new and conduct themselves very well about this matter if the authorities can introduce water cuts at regular intervals to get our residents to conserve water,” said Dyasi.

Xoliswa Khalimashe (68) also from Europe Informal Settlement, warned that she feared the continuous overnight theft of taps could result in them landing in a disastrous situation in their area.

Khalimashe said the problem can be averted if the municipality could introduce a new irremovable system of communal water taps for their neighbourhood. The theft of taps means that in the morning she often finds water running unattended.

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