Planact, together with eMalahleni Informal Settlement Cluster (also known as MASCOM), are concerned to learn that the Emalahleni Local Municipality is heavily indebted on its water bill. The article was published in the local newspaper, Witbank News, on 05th June 2020 titled “Emalahleni Municipality drowning in water debt”.
The main concern is that this challenge may defeat the cluster’s current efforts to advocate for improved water and sanitation access in informal settlements in the municipality. The provision of water is currently not at a satisfactory level, while the municipality does not provide sanitation services at all for informal settlement communities (Masakhane; Spring Valley; El Paso; Jooma Farm; Five Shaft; Magagula; Benicon; KwaMgewana)
This dire problem comes at a time where the world at large is faced with a global novel Coronavirus (Covid-19). Informal settlement communities require access to basic sanitation and water now more than ever. Since informal settlements use shared sanitation facilities, cleaning of those facilities should be prioritsed so as to curb the spread of Covid-19. These communities are at a higher risk of contracting and spreading the virus within their communities.
The Department of Health with the guidelines from the World Health organization, has put measures in place to help citizens to protect themselves against Covid-19. One of those measures is to wash hands for 20 seconds with water. This cannot be fully exercised without access to adequate water. This leaves informal settlement residents fully exposed to Covid-19 since others do not afford to buy hand sanitizers.
In light of the recent developments in Emalahleni Local Municipality, informal settlement communities in this municipality joined an initiative called Asivikelane: Voices of informal settlement residents during the Covid-19 crisis. It is a joint initiative of 181 informal settlements across the country which runs under the hashtag #Asivikelane on social media.
The latest report from Asivikelane shows that fewer than half of the Emalahleni residents in informal settements said that they had access to safe water whenever they needed it. None of the residents in Spring Valley or Somgodla had access, while most in Jooma Farm and Masakhane also did not have access.Furthermore, of the 30 residents, all except six residents said that they had constructed their own toilets. Of the exceptions, three had toilets provided by the municipality and three had not have any toilet. The report further state that none of the residents had their toilets cleaned by the municipality.
In order for these informal settlement community to continue playing their role in curbing the spread of Covid-19, it is of paramount that the municipality also contribute with needed facilities such as water, sanitation and waste removal so as to better equip informal settlement communities to fight the pandemic and other related water and sanitation diseases.