Pretoria - Serious inroads have been made in addressing the water use authorisation licence backlog, with 1 049 applications already finalised by the Water Affairs Department through its backlog eradication project.
Addressing the media ahead of the department's budget vote for 2012/13, to be presented in Parliament later today, Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa acknowledged that the issue of water equity was an area which has not received sufficient attention.
"We have now deemed it necessary that an equity enforcing mechanism be developed, which should focus particularly on access or lack thereof to safe drinking water by poor, historically marginalised communities," Molewa said.
The National Blue Drop Water Quality Assessment report for 2012, released by the department earlier this month, indicated good performance by various municipalities and water boards, but also highlighted some of the challenges they still faced.
Molewa said her department had begun supporting municipalities where water was not safe to drink by sending rapid response units, which were already in action in the Koukamma and Ikwezi municipalities in the Eastern Cape.
"The number of systems where water safety planning is underway has increased from 154 last year to 579 this year," said Molewa.
She said the national average of access to basic water services was 94.7%, up from 59% in 1994.
She, however, acknowledged that there were many rural areas and informal settlements where people still did not have basic access to safe drinking water and other basic water services, adding that the delivery of water and sanitation to people by municipalities had become one of the greatest challenges faced by the water sector.
As part of efforts to accelerate the delivery of the most basic need to communities, Molewa said the department was strategically positioning itself to ensure that the entire water supply value chain, from "source-to-tap and waste-to-source" functioned effectively.
The department would prioritise the provision of regional bulk infrastructure for water supply and water treatment works, including connecting water from the source to municipal reticulation systems.
Molewa said the department was investing heavily in the construction of bulk water supply infrastructure. This included the construction of the first phase of the Mokolo and Crocodile River (West) Water Augmentation (MCWAP-1), while a further augmentation was planned as a scheme to transfer surplus return flows available from the Crocodile River (West) to the Lephalale environs, amongst others.
In addition, the department would also play a key role in the conclusion of the feasibility studies in preparation for the construction of the UMzimvubu Dam in the Eastern Cape.
The department had also partnered with the Department of Public Works to tap into their database of retired engineers, who were currently mentoring and coaching other young engineers in the department.
"In addition, our graduate recruitment programme has, since its inception, also played its part and a total of 240 graduate trainees have been recruited, 35 of whom have been placed as candidates in various engineering positions."