High numbers of households in Mpumalanga, Limpopo, Eastern Cape and North West experienced cumulative interruptions in water supply of more than 15 days over the year in 2017.

Figures from the latest General Household Survey conducted by Statistics South Africa’s (Stats SA) show that while perceptions of water provision services have improved over the long term, South Africa is confronting serious problems in delivering this vital resource.

The Survey shows that, in 2005, 7.7% of households perceived their water as not safe to drink. That figure dropped to 6.8% in 2018. In 2005, 8,2% of households believed their water was not clear compared to 6,8% in 2018. Furthermore, 9,2% of households said that their water did not taste good compared to 7,8% in 2018.  Lastly, 8,4% of households in 2005 indicated that their water was not free from bad smells compared to only 6,3% in 2018. 

Results over a shorter term, however, show an increase in the number of households that are unhappy with their water quality. There has been a 6% increase in households believing their water is not safe to drink since 2011, a 3% increase in those saying their water is not clear, a 7% increase in those saying their water tastes bad, and a 17% increase in those who believe their water has a bad odour.

Moreover, prolonged water interruptions remain frequent in some provinces. 

A third of households in Mpumalanga, a quarter in Limpopo, and more than a fifth in the Eastern Cape and the North West experienced cumulative interruptions of more than 15 days over the year during 2017.

IRR analysts say South Africa has done a tremendous job in increasing the number of households with access to piped water since the end of apartheid, but caution that continued mismanagement, corruption and incompetence in municipalities threaten to reverse those gains.  The IRR argues that water is the most important resource in communities, and local councils will need to clean up their act or see electoral support drying up in 2021. 

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