Good science supporting safe drinking water in South Africa
The Constitution of South Africa (1996) recognises the right to a safe and healthy environment, of which access to water is one element. The National Water Act and Water Services Act identify the right to access to safe drinking water, which means that our drinking water should be treated to a standard that is safe. In South Africa, the supply of potable water, along with the provision of sanitation, is the responsibility of Local Government.
“While tap water in most of the country’s large cities and towns remains among the highest quality in the world, declining levels of the quality of drinking water of in some smaller towns and rural areas is a concern” says Jay Bhagwan, Director responsible for Water Use and Waste Management at the Water Research Commission (WRC). “The reason for this varies, the most common being the lack of technical expertise and inadequate investments in infrastructure operation and maintenance” Bhagwan adds.
Since 1994, the South African Government has directed its resources towards ensuring that the millions of unserved people in the country have access to basic water supply and sanitation. Under the custodianship of the Department of Water Affairs, to date Government has provided water supplies to around 18.7 million people.
It is a statutory requirement that treated drinking water complies with the South African National Standard (SANS 241) and this standard is informed by the World Health Organisation’s drinking water guidelines. These standards provide the country with quality requirements for tap-water supplies.
According to Bhagwan, a WRC study in 2008 evaluated some 181 Small Water Treatment Plants (SWTPs) across South Africa, with an objective of understanding the intricate operational and management factors that impinge on disinfection efficiency and thereby threaten the sustainability of potable water provision in rural communities. The study found that, in the majority of the cases, inconsistencies in the plant operations existed, which made it impossible for the plants to ensure sustainable production of good quality drinking water. However, it was also revealed that several small towns were complying with SANS 241.
A WRC guideline document on disinfection efficiency has since been made available for plant supervisors, plant operators, plant technical managers, design engineers and plant owners, to assist them to improve their operations.
The WRC, guided by sound research findings, has also developed a series of useful supporting guidelines and tools, most of which are freely available to assist everyone, from the least qualified plant operators, to the technicians, and to city management personnel, in meeting the national drinking water compliance standards.
Amongst the recently released products are very useful guidelines like SABS standards for drinking water treatment chemicals, locally-produced membrane treatment plants for small communities, an electronic water quality management system (eWQMS), desalination guide, oxidation and disinfection manual, water purification works design, and support for small water treatment plants.
For more details contact:
Dr Jo Burgess
Research Manager: Water Research Commission
Tel: 012 330 9039