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Water Supply, Sanitation Inadequacies During South Africa COVID Lockdown

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa

Basic water and hygiene supplies have been described as lacking in parts of South Africa during the country's COVID-19 lockdown, which is currently planned to extend to 30 April. Angry residents in the Eastern Cape told Sowetan Live that on 12 April "we heard that they [health workers] were coming and we decided to set dogs on them and also threw stones at them because they didn't come with sanitisers or water so that we can wash our hands regularly as required".

Health workers are accompanied by police but claim that they do not use force to screen or test, despite the ability to enforce the very strict procedures.

In a letter to Premier Oscar Mabuyane the Eastern Cape Civil Society Coalition (consisting of over 30 provincial social movements of mostly the poor) cited access to water as being the most critical need as it is required for basic hygiene and food production. The letter details the municipalities and villages with little water, some muddy and possible hazardous water, some with no water at all.

The letter continues: “At the same time, we are aware of the undertaking His Excellency, President Cyril Ramaphosa [made to provide] water tanks and food parcels.” The promised tanks have not been delivered and the letter emphasises that “the failure to provide water amounts to the denial of a basic right in terms of Section 27 of South African Constitution.”

The letter contains specifics about sanitation facilities in the province and overall access to education and employment.

“Please communicate directly with the people in civil society,” the letter continued. “Act with immediate effect to remove the blockages to the delivery of food and water. This has to be done by starting with rapid delivery of the promised JoJo tanks and food parcels, and establishing an emergency communication centre where abuses by officials are reported; and take decisive action against municipalities that have failed the people.”

The regional complaint has been referred to the regional water board and the government’s Department of Water and Sanitation, has said that, at 14 April, there had been a mobilisation of over 3,500 water tanks to districts and metros all around the Eastern Cape.

“The Eastern Cape had been declared a drought disaster province and these Covid-19 interventions come on the heels of previous drought interventions that have been spearheaded by the department. Thus, these tanks and tankers will also act as remedial efforts to tackle the ongoing drought in the province,” said Sputnik Ratau, spokesperson for the department.

On 15 April, Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu warned that deliberate sabotage of the government’s water supply interventions for the COVID-19 outbreak would not be tolerated.

“Vandalism is an act of sabotage. I am happy that in the North West this matter has been reported to the police. The law must take its course against those who have decided to sabotage our installations for profiteering,” said Minister Lindiwe Sisulu in a statement.

In an 18 April statement from the government, the President’s Coordinating Council “agreed on the need for a risk-adjusted approach to the resumption of economic activity at the completion of the lockdown period.”

The virtual gathering, chaired by President Cyril Ramaphosa, “discussed progress and challenges in the implementation of the nationwide lockdown with specific emphasis on the need for relief of social distress suffered by many South Africans who have suffered a loss of income, who are experiencing food shortages or who do not have access to water".

The country's Portfolio Committee on Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation is scheduled to hold a virtual meeting 21 April with the Minister of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation to receive a briefing on the impact and initiatives undertaken by both departments in providing water and sanitation to citizens

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