Daft norms and standards for domestic water and sanitation

Update:  February 2023 – Afesis-corplan together with the SERI, Isandla, Dag and Water Aid submitted a joint submission (click here for a copy)  to the Dept. of Water and Sanitation in response to the Draft Water and Sanitation Services Policy on Privately Owned Land 2022.  In the joint submission, we call on the Department to expand its definition of private land so that basic services can be provided to people living in informal settlements, backyard shacks, occupied buildings and other precarious conditions (over and above farm dwellers for whom the policy is mainly targeted).

The South African Department of Water and Sanitation has indicated (in October 2022) that they will be publishing their new draft norms and standards for domestic water and sanitation very soon. 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?

What can be done to get water and sanitation provided at a level consistent with the norms and standards?

People living in informal settlements, like all people in South Africa, are entitled to a basic level of services as enshrined in the Bill of Rights of the Constitution.

The following outlines various actions a person living in an informal settlement can take to achieve these basic human rights.

The constitution in the Bill of Rights guarantees the right to water, a healthy environment and housing. The constitution says that the state must take measures to progressively (that is, step by step over time) and with the resources and funds it has available work towards the full achievement of these rights. See the question: “What does the South African Bill of rights in the Constitution say about basic services”  in the Frequently Asked Questions webpage for more information on these rights.

One tool government uses to turn these rights into reality is to set standards or goals for itself that it commits towards achieving. For example, the Water Regulations of 2001 say that people need at least a minimum of 25 litres of water per person per day (or 6 kilolitres per household per month) within 200 meters of each household.  For more information on norms and standards see the answer to the question, “What are the norms and standards for the provision of basic services?” in the Frequently Asked Questions webpage.

Ask your informal settlement committee how many households live in your informal settlement. If you do not have an existing (or functional) informal settlement committee, consider starting a new one or supporting the existing one. For more information on this see, how to organise your informal settlement.

If you and/or your informal settlement committee is unsure how many households there are in your informal settlement, organise some people to help you count the households. For more information see, how to count people living in your informal settlement.

Use the information on the number of households in your informal settlements and this communal taps and toilets calculator to work out how many taps and toilets your informal settlement should have.

Follow these steps when using this calculator:

  • choose the municipality where you live
  • type in the number of households in your informal settlements
  • see how many toilets and taps you are supposed to have in your informal settlement
  • type in the number of (formal) toilets and taps you actually have in your informal settlement
  • see shortfall or additional toilets and taps you have in our informal settlement
  • share your findings with other people and share your thoughts on what you can do with these findings

You can now use this information on communal taps and toilets to make sure that your existing taps and toilets are properly cleaned and maintained. See the section below on getting municipality to clean and maintain your taps and toilets. You also can use this information to help you motivate for government to get more taps and toilets for your community. See the section below on calling for more taps and toilets to be provided in your informal settlement.

There are a number of activities you can take to make sure that the communal taps and toilets you have are properly cleaned and maintained.

One of the easier things you can do is to lodge a complaint with the municipality, informing the municipality of the problem. See how to lodge a service delivery complaint.

Find out from and speak to people who are responsible for cleaning the taps and toilets what challenges they face doing their jobs. Ask them what you can do to help them fix/clean the taps and toilets.

Ask your ward councillors and/or ward committee members to follow up to get the municipality to clean the toilets. See this list of ward councillors to find out who the ward councillor is, who is responsible for your informal settlement.

Help the municipality monitor that the toilets are cleaned as they are supposed to be cleaned and maintained. You can do this as an individual or as an informal settlement but you are likely to have more of an impact if you are able to join with other informal settlements to monitor as a group of informal settlements how the municipality is maintaining all the communal taps and toilets.

Join and/or set up a monitoring process that involves other informal settlement. See Asivikelane  and #Asivikelane for an example of such a campaign and see how to set up a basic service delivery monitoring group.

If you are still not happy with how the municipality is cleaning and maintaining the toilets and taps, this may be because the municipality has not budgeted enough funds to pay for the proper cleaning and maintenance of taps and toilets.

To find out how much money is budgeted for cleaning the toilets and taps you can speak to your ward councillor to see if they can help you get this budget information, and/or you can contact the water and sanitation department of your municipality and ask them for this information.

You can also look at the municipal budget yourself to see if you can work out what funds the municipality has set aside for cleaning and maintenance of communal toilets. For more information see how to read municipal budgets.

Find out if your municipality has a Community Work Programme in place and investigate if this programme is being used or can be used to clean and maintain the communal taps and toilets. For more information see the Community Work Programme.

Consider organising a group of local people to arrange for the cleaning of your communal taps and toilets as a community. See how to organise your community.

Show your neighbours and other people you know the results from the taps and toilets calculator exercise. (See section above on determining how many taps and toilets your informal settlement should have.)

Use social media to share these results. Ask your neighbours, other people and people you have contacted on social media what they think can be done to get more taps and toilets in your informal settlement. Also, share your ideas of what you think should be done.

Contact your ward councillor/ward committee and ask him/her or them to help you get more toilets and taps. Show your findings from the tap toilet calculator exercise to help motivate why you need more toilets and taps.

Contact the water and sanitation (or other relevant) departments in the municipality asking them to provide more taps and toilets. Use the information you have gathered on your existing situation and on what you are entitled to receive to motivate why you need more taps and toilets.

Consider working with other informal settlements that also need more taps and toilets to make a joint submission and motivation asking for more taps and toilets. The municipality may listen to and respond better to your request if you are part of a bigger group.

Raise awareness of your situation with other people who don’t live in your or similar informal settlements getting them to support your call for more toilets and taps. See how to campaign for something you want

It is very likely that the municipality will say they cannot provide you with more taps and toilets because they do not have enough money to do this.

Find out how much money the municipality has got for providing water and taps in the area by asking your councillor and/or speaking to municipal officials about this.

If they are unable to help you satisfactorily check the municipal budget to see how much money they have budgeted for water and toilets. See how to read municipal budgets.

It is also likely that the municipality may say they can’t give you more taps and toilets as they do not have plans for servicing your area. As explained in the section on your rights to water and sanitation (and in the information found in “What does the South African Bill of rights in the Constitution say …” in the Frequently Asked Questions webpage) the municipality must provide you with a minimum level of temporary or emergency services no matter where you live. It does not matter if there are no plans for putting in taps and toilets in your area, government must still find ways to get water and toilets to you.

The government must also find ways to get taps (water) and toilets (sanitation) to your community even if government plans to move your settlement sometime in future. While you wait to be moved you must get water and toilets. Also, it does not matter if the municipality or government does not own the land where you are living (the land can even be privately owned), government must still find ways to get water and toilets to you. See question “Can you start upgrading phases even if you don’t own the land”  in the Frequently Asked Questions website.

Organise a committee to negotiate with the municipality for improved water and sanitation. See how to organise your community.

It will probably not be easy to get more taps and toilets for your informal settlement. The municipality has lots of people making demands on them to provide them with different services. You will need to make a strong argument as to why the municipality must give you more taps and toilets. You have the Constitution and the Bill of Rights on your side so you must not give up. If there is not enough money for more taps and toilets you must work with government and others to negotiate for changes in the municipal budget so you can get what you are entitled too.

If you still unable to get the municipality to provide adequate basic services for your community that match the norms and standards you should be getting then you can approach the courts to see if you can get a court ruling to the force the municipality to provide taps and toilets (and./or other basic services). See when and how to approach the courts.

You may not be happy with the norms and standards that are used to determine the minimum level of services in your and other informal settlements. You may think that the number of taps and toilets that government is aiming for in your informal settlement is too low.

Each municipality has its own norms and standards and is able to determine its own norms and standards for water and sanitation taking into account how many people are in need of support, how much funding is available, how easy or difficult it is to provide the taps and toilets, and any other local circumstance.

If you cannot easily find out what norms and standards are used in your informal settlement consider making a formal PAIA request to ask for the information. PAIA stands for the Promotion of Access to Information Act. See how to make a PAIA application here.

If you do get updated official information on what norms and standards your municipality is using please inform Afesis-corplan [info@afesis.org.za] so the communal taps and toilets calculator can be updated.

Compare the norms and standards for different municipalities and metros and different settlement types (e.g. rural vs urban) to see how your informal settlement is different from other informal settlements in other areas. See the communal taps and toilets calculator the norms and standards summary table for examples of what norms and standards are being used in different municipalities.

Share your findings with your neighbours and others in your informal settlement to get their views on if they think you need to get your municipality to change its norms and standards.

If you believe you need to change your norms and standards then develop a campaign to motivate for these changes. See section on how to campaign for something.

For example, develop a petition motivating for changes in norms and standards. See this simple petition website for an example of a petition you could use. Link the petition to a motivation report explaining why you feel the norms and standards need to be improved. Consider creating two petitions, one for people who live in informal settlements and one for people who do not live in an informal settlement but support those people that do.

Government also has norms and standards for other basic services. Examples of these other services include:

  • Refuse removal
  • Household electricity
  • Public lighting
  • Fire protection
  • Stormwater
  • Roads and paths
  • Child play areas and recreation facilities
  • Educational facilities and services
  • Health facilities and services
  • Police service facilities and services
  • Communication facilities and services (post boxes, telephones, wifi connections, etc)

See norms and standards for settlement development for more information on norms and standards for these other facilities and services.

You can undertake a similar process as described in the proceeding sections dealing with taps and toilets to also make sure your informal settlement has access to other basic services. This includes for example:

  • Find out from your municipality what norms and standards they have for each of these services.
  • Check if your informal settlement meats the minimum standards
  • Call for and campaign for the municipality to provide at least the minimum level of services.
  • Campaign for increases in the minimum standards if you believe the existing norms and standards are too low.

Having access to a basic level of services is just the minimum level of services that you should be calling for. The provision of these basic services is just the start of a longer-term upgrading of informal settlements process.

Government has an Upgrading of Informal Settlements Programme that aims to progressively (in a step by step process) improve the living conditions of people so that everyone has access to adequate housing, water and a healthy environment. See your right to basic services and see the frequently asked questions on the upgrading of informal settlements for more information on all of this.

The provision of basic services is part of one of the early phases of the upgrading of informal settlements so by making sure that your informal settlement has the right number of taps and toilets (and other basic services) as required by the relevant norms and standards you are already on track towards the upgrading of your informal settlement. The upgrading phases are:

  • Phase 1: Application involving applying for the necessary funding to undertake the upgrading process.
  • Phase 2: Project initiation involving the provision of basic temporary and emergency services and basic tenure recognition.
  • Phase 3: Project implementation involving the provision of improved services to all households and improved tenure recognition.
  • Phase 4: Consolidation involving the provision of top structures and title deeds (or other appropriate land tenure arrangement) for those that qualify.

See the section on frequently asked questions on upgrading of informal settlements. In this section you can find out more about:

  • what is upgrading of informal settlements
  • how are informal settlement categorised
  • where does funding come from for the upgrading of informal settlements
  • how can you participate in the upgrading process
  • partnering with others in the upgrading process
  • using the upgrading process to improve your livelihoods