Daft norms and standards for domestic water and sanitation
The South African Department of Water and Sanitation has indicated that they will be publishing their new draft norms and standards for domestic water and sanitation very soon (as of October 2022).
This announcement provides a valuable opportunity for all of us who are interested in water and sanitation issues to help inform the content of the final norms and standards that get approved for the country.
Norms and standards provide a set of standardized criteria against which the delivery and maintenance of water and sanitation services can be measured across the country. Norms and standards answer questions such as:
- What is the minimum amount of water that people need to access on a daily basis to live?
- What is the maximum number of people that can use a communal toilet?
- What maximum distance should a water point be from the furthest user?
- What minimum quality does the water need to be for healthy consumption?
- What minimum cleaning and maintenance services need to made available for water and sanitation facilities?
- And more.
Background information on norms and standards:
Section 27 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa states that everyone has a right to have access to sufficient water on a progressive basis and within the available resources; and Section 24 states that everyone has a right to an environment that is not harmful to their health or wellbeing.
In order for government to give effect to these rights, the Water Services Act (Act No. 108 of 1997) provides for the Minister responsible for water and sanitation the power to promulgate regulations relating to water and sanitation. Specifically, Section 9.1 of this Act states that “the Minister may, from time to time, prescribe compulsory national standards relating to— (a) the provision of water services” where Section 1(xix) defines water services as “water supply services and sanitation services.”
Based on these powers, regulations relating to compulsory national standards and measures to conserve water, were developed and approved in 2001.
- Section 3 of these 2001 regulations state that “the minimum standard for basic water supply services is— … (b) a minimum quantity of potable water of 25 litres per person per day or 6 kilolitres per household per month— (i) at a minimum flow rate of not less than 10 litres per minute; (ii) within 200 metres of a household; (iii) with an effectiveness such that no consumer is without a supply for more than seven full days in any year” (emphasis added).
- Section 2 states that “the minimum standard for basic sanitation services is— … (b) a toilet which is safe, reliable, environmentally sound, easy to keep clean, provides privacy and protection against the weather, well ventilated, keeps smells to a minimum and prevents the entry and exit of flies and other disease-carrying pests.”
In 2017, the department developed a more detailed draft set of regulations for domestic water and sanitation, but these regulations were never formally approved by government.
Why do we need new norms and standards?
Afesis-corplan believes that the existing formal norms and standards from 2001 do not provide sufficient guidance for municipalities as to how many taps and toilets these municipalities need to provide in different contexts like informal settlements, communal land areas, for people in farms, people living in bad buildings, back yard shack dwellers and more.
For example, it is difficult to translate the 25 kilolitres per person per month water standard into a standard that clarifies how many households are able to use a tap. The requirement for water to be available within 200 meters of any household also does not make much sense in informal settlements where there are a large number of households within this radius who would all be trying to access this tap, and in urban contexts, 200 meters is often a long distance from where people are residing.
The existing standards for sanitation are also not suitable for informal settlements as they do not specify any qualitative standard (e.g. number of households per toilet seat) but only a quality standard (e.g. toilets must be safe and hygienic etc).
The standards as they are framed at the moment provide a false sense of achievement for many municipalities who are able to claim that they are meeting the minimum standards in that water taps are within 200 meters of households, but the reality for many people living in informal settlements is that the provision of water and sanitation facilities is completely inadequate to provide access to an appropriate level of water and sanitation.
In relation to informal settlements, different municipalities have been able to develop their own unique set of standards, applicable to their own unique contextual circumstances, for the provision of communal water and sanitation services, as long as these standards still comply with the 2001 national norms and standards. For example the City of Cape Town has set itself a target of providing 1 tap per 25 households and 1 toilet seat per 5 households, whereas the Buffalo City Metropolitan Municipality has a target of 1 tap per 50 households and 1 toilet seat per 10 households. Is this difference between metros fair for the informal settlement dwellers concerned?