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Press Release 
Jay Bhagwan  
 
2013/05/15 
 
Sanitation subsidy in South Africa: WRC study

There are a number of challenges that are currently experienced in the subsidised sanitation sector in South Africa. These challenges are generally exacerbated by the fact that efforts are currently uncoordinated between departments and between the various levels of government. An ongoing study by the Water Research Commission’s (WRC) has found that there seems to be a lack of clarity as to how the household sanitation subsidy processes and procedures integrate or conflict with the National Housing Programme subsidy processes. To address this challenge the WRC commissioned a study to investigate the effective and efficient use of sanitation subsidies in South Africa. This research is expected to feed into the current review of the sanitation policy and of national grant systems.

The study looks at the issues of economic and social cost, to determine overlaps and gaps between different sources of sanitation subsidy (i.e. Municipal Infrastructure Grant, Low-Cost Housing subsidy, etc.) and to determine what constitutes efficient use of subsidies. A stakeholder workshop held on 24 April 2013 at the WRC enabled sanitation experts to discuss this matter in detail.

There are various perceptions on this issue; some households have been seen to have benefited from more than one subsidy. Others perceive the cost of construction of a basic sanitation facility to have escalated at an unreasonably high rate over the past 10 years. Another perception is that the sanitation subsidy provided to poor households is not being effectively and efficiently applied. The question remains: is the sanitation sector effective and efficient in their use of public funds and, if not, how can we improve this effectiveness and efficiency?

The preliminary outcomes of the study have revealed that the full supply costs of providing subsidised sanitation facilities range from R22 800 for a VIP facility to R46 400 for a septic tank system, based on 2012 prices. The environmental and health impact costs of an incorrectly constructed, operated and maintained facility increases the unit cost of a subsidised VIP toilet to R33 800, a 32% increase in unit cost.  Similarly, urine diversion (UD) costs increased to R38 300 (29%) and the unit-cost for septic tanks increased to R57 300 (19%). The right of access to sanitation, unlike other basic services such as water, housing and electricity, is not an explicit but an implied right in the South African Constitution.

Commenting on the issue, Mr Jay Bhagwan, Executive Manager at WRC says, ”The Water Services Act (Act No. 108 of 1997), which is the principal policy regulating water service provision in South Africa, does however legitimize the right of all South Africans to basic sanitation. The Constitutional right to housing does include the right of access to a sanitation service as part of housing, according to the Constitutional Court decision on the Grootboom case”.

Despite this relatively strong legislative framework that underpins provision of basic sanitation services in South Africa, the interpretation and implementation of the framework at and between various levels of government is inconsistent. It is still very unclear as to financing the operation and maintenance of sanitation services, and as to who is targeted by the policy, i.e., all citizens or only the poor.  Currently very few norms, standards and guidelines have been provided on the economic efficiency and effective use of sanitation subsidies.  At a municipal level, this lack of clarity in policy has led to confusion in the implementation of sanitation initiatives.

The key purpose of this study is to develop a guideline on effective and efficient use of sanitation subsidies for future sanitation subsidy policy formulation and interventions.

For more information contact: Mr. Jay Bhagwan, Executive Manager – Water Use and Waste Management   jayb@wrc.org.za    Tel: 012 330 9042, Cell: +27832907232

 
     
 
 
 
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