Role of water as a resource in hygiene and sanitation
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Water supply and sanitation remain a huge problem in townships and rural areas of South Africa, in effect affecting the water supply, hygiene and health of marginalized communities. Following democracy in 1994, South Africa’s new government embarked on a program of eradicating backlogs in water supply and sanitation that had become endemic under apartheid in townships and rural areas. In addition, South Africa’s constitution categorically states that every citizen has a right to a minimum of basic water supply and sanitation. Internationally, access to basic water supply and sanitation are fundamental human rights. Thus the South African government aims is to ensure that all South Africans have access to basic water and sanitation services. This study investigated the quantity and quality of water and how these effect sanitation and hygiene of communities using Walmer Township in the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality as a case study. The study used a multi-pronged methodological approach including structured interviews with a sample of households, key informant interviews, focus group discussions, observations and secondary information. Although the Walmer Community felt that they had access to sufficient quantity of water for their daily use and that the quality of the water was fine, the reality was that most households use less than the daily minimum amount of water per person as required in the constitution because of the distance where they have to fetch the water, which is too far to collect more water than they absolutely need. There is need for municipality to provide more stand pipes in order to reduce the distance that most households have to walk to fetch water. 80% of Walmer residents still use the bucket system, which is the issue that the community is more aggrieved about. One of the reasons the bucket system persists is the unplanned development of the Township and the type of dwellings (mostly shacks) that people still use. Also, the Township has grown and mushroomed organically as a result of the constant influx of people looking for better economic opportunities from rural areas or other urban areas. This makes it very difficult for the municipality to plan for and provide services and infrastructure as the Municipality is always playing catch-up. Worse still, the average number of people that use each bucket toilet (over 80) makes it extremely difficult to maintain the toilets clean and in functional and usable state at all times. Another problem is that the buckets, in particular those managed by the municipality, are not collected as scheduled resulting in spill-over of the toilets. Most of all, there are currently no clear arrangements around management and maintenance of the bucket toilets. Therefore the impact that the bucket system has on the residents’ health and hygiene, and the general Township environment is dire. The uncontrolled and continuing influx of people into Walmer Township has led to very high population density, with the average number of people per household up to ten. Most people of working age in these households are unemployed, which means that most households in the Township depend on social grants for survival. The high unemployment rate and dependency on social grants by most households in Walmer Township means that the community cannot afford to pay for services and therefore depend on amenities provided by the Municipality. The majority of the population of Walmer Township depends on basic services provided by the Municipality. These are provided as public amenities available to all Walmer residents, which makes them largely ‘open access’. This has resulted in poor management and poor maintenance of these amenities. The unhygienic state of most of the bucket toilets and the poor state of water stand taps is as a result of this current management arrangement. It would improve management of these public amenities if a system of locating stand taps and bucket toilets to specific households that could limit access and use to these defined groups of households was introduced. These households would then be responsible for maintaining and managing use of the specific and allocated amenities. The current management arrangements for these public amenities point to the fact that there is currently lack of participatory planning and management between the Municipality and the community. The Municipality takes top-down decisions resulting in disjuncture between the Municipality and the Community in terms of real community needs, provision of these needs, and how they should be serviced and managed.