It is said that the next world war will be fought over water and not land or cultural domination. Media reports state that the municipality has experienced some water shortages over the past few years. Dube says rather than a water shortage due to minimal rainfall, the municipality has experienced water shortages due to the bulk infrastructure not being able to meet demand. “Demand has steadily increased with the construction of developments and the supporting infrastructure has now reached capacity, resulting in bottlenecks. Current water losses are at an unacceptable level and the risk of interruptions in water supply may increase during peak summer periods.”
In an attempt to repair aging and stressed infrastructure a leak-detection and repair programme was carried out in Madadeni. “The programme concentrated on minimising private water leaks and in doing so helped to save the environment, the municipality and people’s money.”
Plans to increase pumping capacity at the Ngagane pump station are pending. “I strongly believe we need to put more effort into water awareness and conservation campaigns. Our community needs to be educated about the importance of saving water and the necessity to report every leak no matter how small. Water is our most precious natural resource and it needs to be treated as such.”
Incorrect water management can have devastating effects on the environment, the economy and the proper functioning of the ecosystem. Not only that, but it can affect the health and productivity of people exposed to unhealthy conditions. The Newcastle municipality’s potable water has received Blue Drop Certification and is among the safest in the country.
In an attempt to save millions and improve the level of sanitation in informal settlements the municipality has started implementing the Amalooloo Sustainable Sanitation Solution. Research has shown that a person urinates ten times more per year than what they excrete faecally. Previously installed long drop toilets do not separate urine from faeces and must be drained a minimum of three times a year. “The biggest challenge for the municipality became removing three tonnes of waste from hundreds of three-cubic metre pits two metres deep in the ground.”
Ventilated improved pit toilets (VIPs) separate urine and hand-wash water from solid matter before it enters the pit. This prevents contamination of groundwater and enables families to maintain their own sanitary systems. The municipality has implemented a number of strategies and routine procedures in an attempt to extend the lifespan of the toilets. “It is irrelevant whether on-site sanitation technology is wet or dry, it requires education, monitoring and management by the municipality and household members.”
The Amalooloo technology is supplied with educational material and equipment for the safe management of its toilets. “Taking cognisance of the challenges the community may face when studying this material technical services has made provision for visits by sanitation task teams to teach communities the processes and principles required to ensure safe VIP management.” People are taught not to throw foreign objects or pour grey water down the pit as this would compromise the efficiency of the system. “Amalooloo systems include a rake for the safe management of dry excreta. The municipality will assist families to remove excreta every six months for two years until this function can be safely taken over by the household members.”
It is hoped that the benefits of this technology will allow people to manage their own waste systems, making them self-sustainable. “Families who have received toilets take pride in their new toilet and this is exemplified by their dedication to keep the structure locked up.”
Challenges faced by technical services
Because rural areas in Newcastle are separated by large tracts of sparsely populated land, electrification is one of the challenges the municipality faces. “Despite this challenge the municipality is determined to provide universal electrification and has joined forces with Eskom in this task.” Technical services says they would like to see Eskom conducting a proper network study in future to assess capacity availability in order to ensure the continuation of rural electrification projects. “This will enable the municipality to apply for relevant grant funding to electrify Eskom’s licensed areas.”
The municipality has a preference to award tenders to emerging contractors in an attempt to create more jobs. At the same time technical services has experienced some difficulty in procuring competent contractors and skilled labour in the past and some important lessons have been learnt. Dube says, “It is important to verify the credibility of contractors who tender to ensure municipal funds are spent efficiently. On the other side of the coin, it is our responsibility to ensure the municipality delivers on its promises to the community.” According to Dube the department’s first safeguard in verifying the credibility of contractors is assessing their previous projects. “We check if previous projects were finished on time and according to budget.”
Terminated tender contracts cost the municipality money and can take more than three months to re-award. “If contractors encounter challenges we work with them rather than terminating contracts and killing off businesses. In our experience a lack of cash flow and/or appropriate skills often cause a contractor to fail. Assistance may include project management or loan capital. For example, sometimes contractors are found to have cash flow issues making it impossible for them to purchase the materials needed to complete the job. “As a municipality we may offer to purchase the necessary materials directly from the supplier. Suppliers are starting to show a preference
for this arrangement with government’s new 30-day settlement agreement. If these efforts are unsuccessful we may begin to impose penalties of between R1 000 and R5 000 a day.” The municipality has also experienced delays due to shortages in materials, plant and equipment. These delays affect the functioning and financial position of the municipality. “Inflation of materials tendered at last year’s prices suddenly increase costs and the budget becomes stressed. In addition, purchased materials stored on the construction site also risk getting damaged.
Born and bred in Newcastle, Dube says he would like to now give back to the community.
I realise that development has been slow but this should soon change as we begin to implement the strategies developed over the past three years.