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Blue Planet Project fights installation of ‘water management devices’ in Cape Town

Please see this update from our Blue Planet Project team in Cape Town:

The Blue Planet Project continues to work with allies in Cape Town, South Africa to fight the installation of Water Management Devices.

Beginning in 2014 the Blue Planet Project has been working with allies in and around Cape Town to contest the installation of Water Management Devices (WMDs) and realize the constitutional right to clean, safe drinking water.

This year a series of workshops have been hosted by the Project and facilitated by activists from the Housing Assembly, an organization struggling for access to decent housing and public services in Cape Town and the Western Cape.

The first two of these workshops, held in Dec 2014 and March 2015, focused on mapping the water needs of communities and sharing and collecting community experiences of water restriction and commodification. This also helped to establish what the gaps are between the levels of water provision mandated by the state, actual outcomes and the needs of residents.

This contributed to more productive discussions and activities in the second round of workshops, held in June and Nov 2015, in Khayelitsha and Ceres, Western Cape. These workshops focused on getting communities organized to challenge the commodification of water and installation of WMDs. Drawing on South African and international experiences of organizing for access to public services, the particular experiences of communities facing the installation of WMDs were situated within the wider trend of water commodification and plans for educating and organizing from door to door and street to street to develop informed and critical understandings of water policy and community experiences were strategized.

A number of important observations were drawn from these sessions illustrating the inadequacy of government policy around basic service provision and the harmful effects of the restriction and commodification of access to water. Primary among them is the fact that for many households the 350 litres of water a day provided by the WMD is wholly inadequate. With as many as 10-15 occupants per dwelling this works out to approximately 25 to 35 litres of water per person per day; well below the minimum amount of 50-100 litres to meet the most basic needs and avoid health concerns set by the WHO. In the absence of adequate housing and other services, the very conditions that predominate in the townships of South Africa, the WHO guidelines indicate that this amount must be much higher.

Restricting water to 350 litres per day exacerbates the health risks the inevitably arise in such conditions. In a more omnipresent way, however, inadequate provision of water interferes with daily basic household tasks such as bathing and washing as there is often not enough water left over after essential uses to complete any major tasks or chores. This places an even greater burden on poor households and especially women. In both Mitchells Plain and Ceres, two of the focus areas for the Project, this is an important organizing focus and is a key organizing tool to connect the everyday experiences and hardships of residents to broader water policy.

The next round of workshops, starting this month, will draw all of these elements together – everyday experiences of inadequate water provision and WMDs, the broader field of water policy and trends towards commodification, and community organizing strategies – to engage and contest the state around water policy. This is a key period for organizing in Cape Town and in South Africa as local government elections loom, which presents an opportunities to engage parties and politicians around water policy. Further, following the elections the process of crafting Integrated Development Plans (IDPs) for each municipality in the country will begin, a process that includes legislated spaces for public participation.

For more on this issue please see the ‘Beacon Valley against Pre-paid water meters’ Facebook page here.