Free basic water implementation in selected rural areas of KwaZulu- Natal and the Eastern Cape.
Water is both a human right and a valuable commodity. Access to water for the rural poor is an international development concern that has been highlighted by the Millennium Development Goals adopted at the Millennium Summit in 2000 in Dublin, Ireland. South Africa's Free Basic Water policy is the government's response to assuring access to water for all - especially those who cannot pay. The policy, however, is required to work within an economic framework that promotes cost recovery and privatisation. The Free Basic Water Policy was officially implemented in July 2001. The policy was rolled out in most urban areas on or near this date. However, in rural areas it has proven much more difficult, and there are many areas that have not yet seen the implementation of Free Basic Water (FBW). This is partly due to varying financial, technical, political and logistical problems at the local and district municipality level. This research investigates the current situation in rural municipalities, looking specifically at FBW policy, institutional arrangements, operation and maintenance costs, cost per capita and affordability in relation to the Equitable Share allocations. Five case studies - compiled through interviews, document analyses, Participatory Rural Appraisal, and workshops provide a broad scale research base from which to analyse the current implementation of FBW in rural municipalities and ascertain whether this policy is affordable at this level. Water Service Authorities (WSA) are at varying levels of implementation, with few having a fully operational policy that is reaching rural areas. A costing exercise revealed that the service delivery price of water varies, but does follow a trend. From this trend a benchmark cost per capita of R5.84/month was determined. This price, although low, is not currently affordable in some municipalities due to insufficient government grants from National Treasury. These grants are fundamental to the sustainability of FBW and the situation must be resolved if FBW is to reach its target market - the poorest of the poor. The mixed success in the implementation of Free Basic Water in rural areas of South Africa should not be taken as indicative of future trends. As the local government transition to newly devolved powers and functions is completed, the capacity at this level to resolve the challenges is more likely. Subject to the continued strength of the South African economy, this policy could be a solution to the historical failure of service delivery to rural areas.
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