Opportunity for implementing reclaimed water for domestic applications in South Africa: institutional engagement and public perceptions
Ndoh Owen, Bella Germaine
MetadataShow full item record
Water scarcity which impacts negatively on humans, as well as on the natural environment, is a real problem facing developed and developing countries. The reuse of wastewater is a critical component of the effective and environmentally sustainable management of South Africa's municipal water supplies. Recycling municipal wastewater for domestic applications is generally less common because people are repelled by the thought of water that has been in toilets going to taps. This repulsion of 'toilet to tap' is a symptom of the disgust or 'yuck' emotion. The study aims to address negative public perceptions by proposing an approach of terms of engagement with local government, which is likely to shift negative responses to more positive responses. The study used a qualitative methodology and a case study design was deployed for the study. Data was collected through individual interviews and focus group discussions and involved the use of Participatory Action Research tools. A sample size of eightyeight respondents comprised of municipal officials and members from the public. The Capability Approach, which advocates for social justice and well-being is the theoretical framework that grounds this study. Data was analysed using categorical aggregation analysis. The study proposes that inadequate engagement between the institutions and the public is the premise for negative perceptions and emotions because it inhibits public understanding regarding the safety and benefits of the reclaimed water scheme. Equity concerns are particularly visible due to the cleavages created by the past apartheid era. The study argues that there is an over reliance of the Environmental Impact Assessment stakeholder engagement which is the modus operandi of public engagement. The study develops terms of engagement and specifies when and how institutions should engage with the public to avoid obstacles to the implementation of reclaimed water. The study posits that the public should be involved in all decisionmaking stages, from the initial stages right through to the final stages of the project, giving them an opportunity to make informed choices regarding reclaimed water. This study provides evidence that the interface between the institutions and the public is likely to foster dialogue between the public and local government where reclaimed water is no longer a threat but becomes a solution to water scarcity.