[DEBATE] : (Fwd) Jeff Rudin on free basic water
pbond at mail.ngo.za
Wed Jul 11 08:59:22 BST 2007
> *From:* Jeff Rudin [mailto:jeffrey.rudin at samwu.org.za]
> *Sent:* 10 July 2007 08:53 AM
> The attached is an article from the May issue of 'Water -- Sewage &
> Effluent' that I was asked to write as part of a 'Debate Section'
> being promoted by the journal.
> The article might be of some general value for the Water Caucus.
> Please distribute, If you agree.
> Our government is proud to proclaim that 'water is life; sanitation is
> dignity'. Their practice, however, gives the lie to both claims. The
> commercialisation of water and sanitation is at the heart of our
> government's policies. This means a practice driven by imperatives
> far removed from the lofty sentiments of life and dignity.
> The 'user pays' principle in a country in which the majority are
> officially recognised as being poor can have only one consequence:
> water and sanitation remain unaffordable to a very large number of our
> Our government recognises this problem. Their remedy in 2000 was to
> make a basic amount of water free to everyone. There are three
> fundamental difficulties with what might otherwise appear to be a most
> enlightened solution.
> . First, what was presented as a universal commitment to everyone
> has over the years been increasingly restricted to 'indigents', to use
> the highly pejorative, though official, feudal term
> . Second, although no accurate information is available, it is
> clear that large numbers of poor people are still not receiving any
> free water
> . Third, the government has defined the constitutional guarantee of
> 'sufficient' water to mean 25 litres per person per day. This is an
> entirely arbitrary amount. More to the point is that it bears little
> resemblance to the actual basic needs of real people. Allowing for an
> occasion bath and shower -- thereby giving some meaning to the
> constitution's guarantee of dignity -- means at least a 4-fold
> increase in the basic amount. And, it must be noted, this increase
> still excludes the special water needs of the very young, the old and
> the sick, including people with HIV/AIDS. Also excluded from this
> required 4-fold plus increase is water required for backyard fruit and
> vegetable growing that could contribute to the food security that is
> an additional constitutional guarantee.
> These are not controversial points. All of them are statements of
> fact. In countering them, Ministers and government officials would
> instead point to practical difficulties such as cost, capacity, water
> shortages and the need for time in which to rectify the injustices of
> apartheid. None of these arguments, however, is sustainable. (Samwu
> cannot develop these points now but would be happy to do so on another
> These alleged practical difficulties, together with the government's
> general policy of commercialisation of essential services, its
> adoption of the user-pay principle and its promotion of BEE, have, in
> a complex of interacting ways, also led the government to look at
> fully-fledged privatisation, public private partnerships and
> outsourcing as partial solutions to the water delivery problem.
> In our view, these intended solutions in fact aggravate the problem.
> Again, space does not allow for any elaboration other than one
> consideration. The private sector is not a charity but is driven by
> the imperatives of profit maximisation. This is not intended as a
> critique but as a simple description. Supplying water or sanitation,
> in a country where the majority of people are poor, is therefore
> either not a viable business proposition or, if it is, is unavoidably
> -- and in many different ways -- made sufficiently profitable at the
> expense of the poor.
> Dr Jeff Rudin
> National Research Officer
> South African Municipal Workers' Union
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