Pretoria - A total of 240 graduate trainees have been recruited by the Department of Water Affairs to help strengthen the institution's capacity.
Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa said while there was an enormous challenge in skills in the water sector - especially with regard to the scarcity and misalignment of artisans, engineering and technical skills - the department was working hard to close the gap.
Presenting her department's budget vote in Parliament on Wednesday, Molewa said her department had partnered with the Department of Public Works so they could tap into their database of retired engineers, who in turn mentor and coach the young and prospective engineers in the department.
"Additionally, our graduate recruitment programme has since its inception also played its part and recruited a total of 240 graduate trainees, 35 of whom have been placed as candidates in various engineering positions," Molewa said.
For the current financial year, the department has allocated R2.597 billion to regional bulk infrastructure, illustrating that infrastructure was a fundamental need without which the department and its entities could not deliver on their priority projects.
"In the previous financial year, 173 625 people benefited from completed projects and in this current year, we expect about 550 000 people to benefit as this will go a long way in addressing the 2014 water targets.
"Furthermore, skills development will continue to be an integral part of the programme, focusing on training of plant operators to ensure efficient operation and maintenance of the infrastructure when it is completed," said Molewa.
She further noted that while the department had surpassed its Millennium Development Goals in water and sanitation, they were continuously working hard to provide good quality water.
She, however, said they were concerned about the decaying state of the current water and sanitation infrastructure, which was dysfunctional and left unattended, leading to the creation of new backlog in certain areas.
In response to this challenge, Molewa said the department was implementing a National Transfers Programme, which was meant to refurbish, provide funds for the operation of the infrastructure and lend support to municipalities in administering and managing the transferred water and wastewater services schemes.
"Under this programme, R542.4 million was transferred in the previous financial year. A total of R714 million has been made available in the current financial year, of which R370 million will be for refurbishment, R 147 million for operations and maintenance, and R187 million for human resources," she explained.
The department was currently increasing the use of groundwater resources, intensifying projects on water recycling as well as desalination of water, particularly in coastal areas.