SOUTH AFRICA – South Africa’s Department of Water and Sanitation’s Blue Drop National Report 2023 has laid bare the shocking deterioration of the country’s drinking water quality, signaling a perilous decline since 2014.

The report provides a comprehensive analysis of the state of water supply systems (WSS) across nine provinces, raising concerns about the safety of drinking water for nearly half of the country’s population.

The report’s most distressing finding is that 46% of the 958 assessed water supply systems exhibit unacceptable microbiological water quality, rendering them unsafe for consumption. This represents a significant increase in health risks compared to previous years.

Out of the evaluated WSS, a staggering 29% (277 systems) are in a critical state, underscoring the gravity of the situation. The number of systems in a critical condition has risen since 2014, sounding an alarm about the overall health of South Africa’s water infrastructure.

Despite the assessment, only 26 water supply systems managed to achieve a Blue Drop score exceeding 95%, earning them the prestigious Blue Drop Certification. This scarcity of excellence highlights the widespread challenges in delivering clean and safe drinking water.

Provincial disparities unveiled

Provincial breakdowns reveal divergent performances. Gauteng leads with 62% of drinking water systems exhibiting excellent or good performance, while the Northern Cape faces a crisis with a staggering 87% of systems in poor or critical condition.

The national Blue Drop Risk Rating saw a marginal improvement from 52.3% in 2022 to 47.15% in 2023. Analyzing risks based on potential human health impact, the report aids in prioritizing interventions for high-risk water supply systems.

The findings align with the Blue Drop Watch Report released earlier this year, indicating an ongoing decline in the status of the country’s water supply services. The pervasive issues suggest a systemic failure and a culture of neglect and noncompliance.

Key findings in the Blue Drop Watch Report indicate that nearly half (46%) of water supply systems pose acute human health risks due to bacterial or pathogenic contamination, while over two-thirds (67.6%) of wastewater treatment works are nearing failure.

The report highlights a substantial loss of clean water, with more than 47% lost through leaks or unaccounted for.

Worryingly, only 26 out of 958 water supply systems met the criteria for delivering clean, drinkable water, as required for Blue Drop certification.

Despite a marginal improvement in overall risk from 52.3% in 2022 to 47.15% in 2023, a significant number of water supply systems still operate close to or beyond their design capacity, compromising the quality of drinking water.

In 23 parts of the country, water supply systems are deemed to be in “poor and critical condition.” The report exposes deficiencies in monitoring and compliance, making it challenging to identify and address issues effectively.

Moreover, 46% of water supply systems do not comply with microbiological standards, leading to contamination by sewage and bacteria, posing severe health risks such as gastro illnesses, cholera, dysentery, hepatitis A, and typhoid.

The Blue Drop findings demand immediate attention and collaborative action across sectors. Senzo Mchunu, Minister for Water and Sanitation, emphasizes a commitment to excellence, urging concerted efforts to address the crisis.

“We move forward knowing that we do not accept ‘being good’ as a norm in the South African water industry; instead, we opt for excellence. The Blue Drop Certification programme has become more than just a subject field for its participants — it has become the accolade of water professionals, in and outside of this beautiful country. Let us continue being inspired by the results,” he said.

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