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Let there be water

brown waterLet there be water… But when all that happens is a hiss, maybe a few splats of brown sludge, many South Africans will know the feeling of “here we go again”.

When that tap has only worked intermittently over the years, it is blood which flows as frustration leads to fear and fear leads to anger. In a nutshell, remember Madibeng in North West, or Bekkersdal in Gauteng, or De Doorns in the Western Province as three of the most recent violent service delivery protests.

For water to flow out the tap even once, many cogs in a huge machine have to run very smoothly and it is at the dam stage life becomes mechanical.

Anything mechanical needs to be maintained. When it is not, people die.

However, Government has A Plan.

“Recent pointed interventions by national government to support municipalities in dealing with the water shortages prove our commitment to end the scourge of water shortage,” said a statement by Department of Water Affairs.

It goes on to say: “These short-term to medium-term interventions include the deployment of technical teams, consisting of engineers, technicians and other artisans to assess systems in the problem areas and attend to these urgently to restore the water supplies.”

Water Affairs spokesperson Themba Khumalo told The Saturday Citizen: “The critical areas we have are water purification plants, recycling of sewage and water reticulation.”

Khumalo said there is a shortage of civil engineers in government in general, but the department is offering bursaries to prospective engineers in matric to study engineering.

This is a good thing, especially when the South African Institution of Civil Engineering (SAICE) is not as coy as government when it states there are no suitably qualified and experienced civil engineers of any kind in local authorities.

“The lack of infrastructure maintenance is leading to people dying,” said Marie Ashpole of SAICE.

In a 2007 document entitled “Needs and Numbers”, structural engineer Allyson Lawless wrote that local government carried the responsibility for ensuring sustainable and efficient water supply, sanitation, roads, electricity, waste disposal, health facilities, which were only achievable with appropriate engineering skills in place.

“Where there is no potable water or where systems malfunction, people are at risk of contracting waterborne diseases, such as cholera, dysentery and typhoid. Increasingly communities are demonstrating their frustration with insufficient and inefficient delivery of services in many areas.”

In an effort to bolster the numbers of engineers, government decided to import engineers from Cuba, which promptly put SAICEs nose out of joint.

“It is with exasperation that SAICE learnt of Minister Edna Molewa of Water and Environmental Affairs’ signing of an agreement with her Cuban counterpart to pave the way for 34 Cuban engineers to “sort out our water crisis while here for a two-year stint,” the organisation said last year, while stating South Africa had world class professionals.

In its defence, Water Affairs laid the blame of the water failure at the feet of corrupt officials. “Corruption within the Madibeng District Municipality was responsible for the breakdown of the piping system so that friends of certain officials should be awarded tenders of water tinkering,” said Khumalo, adding it cost millions to replace the pumps.

Ashpole said there was light at the end of the civil engineering skills shortage tunnel. “With young blood coming things are starting to pick up but there is such a middle management gap at the moment.”

Going forward, SAICE hopes its programme “Youth in Construction”, which it has been running since 2008, will start to yield results soon.

“The time for talking is over,” said Lawless in her document. “Practical solutions are offered to address the numbers and needs. Leadership needs to review current policies and approaches in local government, which at present are not achieving the desired improvement in living conditions and needs to drive the required changes.”

The strategic plan Water Affairs has for 2013/14 to 2017/18 allows for R660 billion to be spent on infrastructure during the next 10 years.

The question is will we have the people with the know-how to run it?

Source: Citizen

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