The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic continues to affect the country on every conceivable level, with seemingly no one immune from its grasp.
While headlines continue to be dominated by rising case numbers and government announcements, it may be easy to overlook the other ways in which the virus is affecting people.
According to Water Institute of SA (Wisa) director Dan Naidoo, the pandemic has created a ticking time bomb that threatens to disrupt the country’s entire water supply.
Naidoo said the huge financial blow that ordinary people had taken during the pandemic, such as reduced pay or job loss, was having a drastic effect on municipal rates collection.
“If people are forced with the choice of paying rates or feeding their children, they are going to choose the latter,” Naidoo said.
This in turn will have a sever knock-on effect on service delivery.
“The more pressure you put on the revenue streams, the more it puts infrastructure at risk.”
The problem is exacerbated by faults in the system that existed before the pandemic, such as poor maintenance and theft.
“For every 100 units [of water] municipalities buy, 50% to 60% of that water is lost.
“So they pay for the 100, but are only getting 40, so they’re already in a bad place,” he said.
Naidoo noted that local municipalities tended to rely heavily on the middle class when it came to revenue collection, which had proven unsustainable.
“The middle class is suffering from job losses, loss of income,” Naidoo said.
“The revenue streams that were steady have now become unsteady.
“Other reliable payers are also at risk, including the big payers, or businesses, which are using much less water due to the lockdown anyway.
“And the longer people cannot run their businesses, their chancers of coming back are more difficult.”
Naidoo pointed to the City of Cape Town as an example, which recorded R900m in outstanding rates and service payments in April, representing a one-third drop in income.
“If South Africa’s economy continues to flag 18 or 24 months into the future, I predict that it will be extremely difficult for the government to continue making up the difference,” he said.
For Naidoo, it is important for municipalities to foster a “payment culture” among residents to help maximise revenue collection, while also finding a way to balance necessary investment in infrastructure with maintaining current levels of service.
“Water is not free, and the country must be sure that it has the capacity to fund and maintain this critical infrastructure into the future,” he said.