Cape Town fails toilet test

This is revealed in the Water Dialogues Report which aims to understand whether and how the choice by Cape Town to outsource sanitation service delivery in its informal settlements affected the quality of service delivery.

The report claims that the City of Cape Town does not currently have a strategic plan for progressive realisation of basic sanitation to informal settlements nor does it have an effective oversight function in place, and that little has changed in this regard since similar research was completed in 2007.

According to the report this has resulted in a haphazard, ad hoc approach to sanitation service delivery, strongly in favour of outsourcing its services. It has also led to private contractors providing services that are not properly regulated or monitored by the City – the City mostly relies on self-regulation by the contractors – which, in some cases has resulted in unacceptable service delivery.

‘€œThe status quo has thus resulted in human rights violations as stipulated in the South African Constitution) and legislative contraventions (e.g. the Occupational Health and Safety Act), as well as impacted on national and international commitments such as the Millenium Development Goals,’€ the report stated.

Based on the research and findings of the report several factors have contributed to this current situation. The first is the general perception by the City that informal settlements are temporary, and therefore not worthy of long-term investment or high priority either in terms of planning or resources.

A second contributing factor has been the political instability within communities, especially within informal settlements since 1994. With the City struggling to gain safe access to the informal settlements in the mid- 90s, it decided to outsource these services, without consideration to how it would be able to regulate the work of the service providers.

Based on the research, the City is clearly not fulfilling its role in regulating water service provision.’€œAs a result, a number of legal and human rights contraventions are occurring that are either going undetected by higher levels of government, or the consequences thereof are not enforced,’€ the report said.

South Africa upholds the access to water and sanitation as basic human rights and sets certain standards for what constitutes basic sanitation. In most parts of the country, Ventilated Pit Latrines (VIPs) meet the standard of a basic sanitation facility. However, due to the high water tables in Cape Town, VIPs are not used in the City.

Instead, a host of different sanitation technologies and services are employed, including the unsuitable ‘€œbucket system’€, (traditionally a 20 ‘€“ 25litre black bucket distributed to households and historically serviced by municipal workers), which the City is trying to eradicate. There are only two informal settlements in the city that still have this technology.

There are also flush toilets, pour-flush toilets, container toilets, chemical toilets and Porta-Potti’€™s, to mention just a few.

The report noted that the City used the narrow definition of the 25 litre municipal black bucket to define the bucket system, while in fact promoting the container toilet, which is in reality a large bucket, with many of the same issues as the bucket system and an additional number of issues due to the fact that it is a communal toilet.

Therefore, the City has essentially substituted the black bucket system for the container toilet system, in this way creating a false impression that it is eradicating the bucket system, the report said.

According to the research, approximately 128 000 households out of the City’€™s 884 000 households (14.5%) live in informal settlements. Of these, approximately 37% do not have access to any sanitation system at all. Of those households that do have access, 68% are supplied with one of the four types of bucket sanitation technology, with container toilets supplying two-thirds of these households.

The report found that quality of service delivery differs significantly, with high user satisfaction for Porta-Potti’€™s, and very poor service quality for container and bucket toilets. In the latter cases, raw sewage spillage occurs frequently, and smells, flies and maggots were cited as common issues by community members.

Overall, the servicing of container and bucket toilets falls far short of the standards required. Thus more than 100 000 households in informal settlements do not yet have access to basic sanitation. ‘€œThis figure is not reported in any of the official reports; only absolute sanitation backlogs are generally reported. It is clear from the research, that the data available is not being properly interrogated. This is leading to misreporting which has significant implications for planning,’€ the report said.

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  • Health-e News

    Health-e News is South Africa's dedicated health news service and home to OurHealth citizen journalism. Follow us on Twitter @HealtheNews

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