Harvesting rainwater can help the poor

The Mitchell’s Plain chamber of commerce is calling on the City of Cape Town to focus on harvesting rainwater to better help poor people access water and sanitation.

City of Cape Town’s draft Water and Sanitation policy is open for public participation this month.

This is Plein Chamber’s response to the City’s request for the public’s input on their draft Water and Sanitation Policy, which sets out the guidelines for current and future decisions regarding the provision of water and sanitation services in Cape Town.

Their response focuses on the draft’s statements that Cape Town would become a “water sensitive city by 2040; and that it would optimise and integrate the management of water resources to improve resilience, competitiveness and liveability for the prosperity of its people”.

Chamber chairman Séan Achim said while the draft policy focused on the affordability of the provision of water to its consumers, it did not address rainwater harvesting or increasing sea levels.

“It is sorely lacking in its planning for the increase in monitoring and evaluation of unmanaged water within the Mitchell’s Plain and Khayelitsha areas,” he said.

“The higher percentage of the marginalised and lower living standards measure (LSM) in our communities means that the people of our communities cannot afford to take action to reduce their reliance on municipal services or to implement solutions that allow for the optimum re-use of water,” he said.

Mr Achim said while the draft police speaks to “managing the water network effectively to reduce losses and non-revenue water”, the City has not yet considered the widespread implementation of stormwater and rainwater harvesting mechanisms for the poor.

“Even though the draft policy talks to water sensitive urban design (WSUD) it is glaringly obvious that community engagement does not talk to rainwater harvesting; rain gardens; sediment ponds; wetlands; and swales,” he said.

Mr Achim said the typical Mitchell’s Plain household has the potential to harvest a considerable amount of rainwater and has the potential to reuse at least 50 percent of the water supplied through grey water treatment systems.

“These systems cost the poor too much to invest in and so, because they are poor, the cost of implementing cost saving mechanisms is beyond their reach,” he said.

He said the City was putting in place systems to allow for the development of Water Services Providers (WSP) and Water Service Intermediaries but that it was essential for poorer communities to be taught how to operate as a WSP with the approval of council.

“We recognise that the water purification techniques and related management processes require a very high level of expertise and that, without such expertise and sufficient controls, there is a high risk to public health as a result of the increased possibility of ingestion of poor quality drinking,” he said.

Mitchell’s Plain United Residents Association (MURA) said the City should listen more attentively to the pleas of and contributions from the community.

MURA’s deputy chairman Michael Jacobs acknowledged the need for policy on matters like water and sanitation and that it gave greater clarity on how to deal with the said issues by all stakeholders.

However, he said, “It must be stressed that these public participation processes should not just become a tick the box exercise in order to comply with administrative and regulatory frameworks.”

Mr Jacobs said there was a severe “trust deficit” between councillors, the City and the Mitchell’s Plain community since the 2021-2022 municipal budget was tabled last month.

“The community felt hurt, angry and betrayed after they were allowed to give their input into the proposed municipal budget but it did not have any impact on changing councillors’ minds for the option of reducing service charges on electricity, rates, water and sanitation,” he said.

Mr Jacobs said that the draft policy was certainly not in the interest of the broader Mitchell’s Plain community, as it hit the poor and marginalised communities the hardest.

“What is called for on behalf of the community of Mitchell’s Plain by MURA is a greater commitment by the City and councillors that they will actually listen more attentively to our community’s pleas and inputs,” he said.

Mr Jacobs said it was up to the council to demonstrate that they intend to listen and engage meaningfully with all of the relevant stakeholders.

The draft policy deals with regulations including; financial management, to ensure fair tariffs and the costs of rendering services; access to water and sanitation services for all residents in case of disaster; formal and informal dwellings; free basic services; ensures the quality, close proximity, environmental conditions and consumer choice; stormwater and waste management; and the integration of planning, infrastructure management, water resource management; asset management.

It also included metering in determining the size and type of device used to determine cost to residents.