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Last Updated: Tuesday, 4 March, 2003, 15:50 GMT
Anger at SA water charging
Water-carrier in South Africa
Rural areas are hit hardest
A scheme in South Africa to charge people for using water is continuing to arouse controversy.

Since its introduction, the scheme - which involves metering the water taken from stand pipes - has raised enough revenue to allow a million extra households each year access to clean water.

But there are many who are unhappy with paying for such a basic essential - and some who are unable to pay.

"We don't want to pay for water because water is life," one resident of SA's Orange Farm told the BBC World Service's One Planet programme.

"Most of the community are unemployed, and if you don't have money it means you don't have water."

Eddie Coppell, director of Rural Development Services in South Africa, admitted that while the scheme had benefited some, it was those most in need of water who were denied it.


"We agreed that the government has done a lot in terms of infrastructure, but people are not seeing this water," he said.

You have to have some mechanisms to discourage the unlimited consumption of natural resources
Mike Miller, director general of Rural Affairs and Forestry in South Africa
"That is the major problem, and that is why disease is spreading throughout South Africa - we've had the biggest cholera outbreak in the history of South Africa.

"This is due to the policy of the World Bank which is making it impossible for people to afford water."

As it is the poorest who need water most, Coppell said the scheme was unfair.

"What is happening is a rich person in Stanton is paying less for water than someone in Orange Farm, and we find that unacceptable."

Environmental charge

But Mike Miller, director general of Rural Affairs and Forestry in South Africa, defended the government's programme.

"The government has probably brought water to around 11 million people," he said.

"We think that's pretty good going."

South Africa has already met the millennium targets of having seven million people supplied with water in the last eight years.

Water-carriers in Johannesburg
The SA government says water is too precious to be free
And Mr Miller added that it was essential to charge to prevent people wasting the water.

"The one thing on which there's wide consensus is that you have to have some mechanisms to discourage the unlimited consumption of natural resources, of which water is one," he said.

"Particularly in a water-scarce country such as South Africa, if you allowed everyone to just take as much as they wanted you would need an infrastructure which would cost 10 or 20 times what we're currently paying."

"You would destroy the water environment and a lot of the good things that go with it."

And he argued that the programme in fact enjoyed widespread support.

"There's wide agreement that pricing is a good way of telling people how scarce something is."

UN water aims 'unrealistic'
28 Feb 03  |  Science/Nature
Summit deal on drinking water
03 Sep 02  |  Africa



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