Tackling water leaks in city homes

Cape Town resident, Mrs Zenzele, lives in a household with seven others. They live on less than R1 000 a month. Although Mrs Zenzele’s home has only a single tap and toilet, her services bill escalated to a staggering R17 050,00 with monthly service charges amounting to R450,00 (55 kl). Mrs Zenzele is one of many households whose consumption is unusually high and facing water bills they cannot afford to pay. How is this possible?

Mrs Zenzele’s toilet cistern is cracked and the washer is worn – often the result of poor building materials. Although it would only cost a few rand to replace the worn washer and R100,00 for the cistern, this work needs to be done by a plumber or experienced handyman. Mrs Zenzele cannot afford a plumber and few
residents have the tools or experience needed to do this work. Mrs Zenzele cannot read her bill and had no idea that Cape Town was a water-scarce city.

The Water Leaks Project – a civil society initiative by the Environmental Justice Networking Forum of the Western Cape and implemented by the City of Cape Town – assisted Mrs Zenzele to fix her toilet. Her monthly water consumption went down to 13 kl and a charge of R20,00.

The Water Leaks Project is a civil society sustainable development initiative working to ensure that people like Mrs Zenzele have access to a continuous, adequate, affordable and sustainable water supply. The project has also trained local youths in basic plumbing skills.

Detailed site investigations revealed that in most instances the high consumption rates were a result of leaks in the domestic plumbing (particularly toilet cisterns) within the property boundaries. As with Mrs Zenzele, occupants cannot afford to pay rapidly growing arrears and cannot afford to have the leaks repaired.

Knowledge about how to do the repair, or the understanding that water is a scarce valuable resource, is also lacking. In order to address these issues, special Council permission (Mayco Resolution: MC 63/11/05) has been given for Water and Sanitation to do ’one-off‘ leak-fixing repair work on indigent properties. In addition, all arrears caused by water leaks on the targeted property will be written off on condition that consumption remains within expected norms for six meter reading cycles following the repairs and that all current consumption is paid for.

source: SMART Living Handbook

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