OPINION: Let us work together to stop water and sanitation infrastructure vandalism

FEATURED General Provincial

Water is life and sanitation is dignity. Access to water is a basic human right and proper sanitation gives people dignity and ensures the right to an environment that is not harmful to health and well-being and the protection of the environment from degradation. But how can we ensure that people have access to reliable water supply and dignified sanitation services that are not detrimental to the environment when vandalism is rife and destroying the infrastructure meant to provide these key services.

Infrastructure vandalism is a serious challenge in our country as it negatively affects service delivery and socio-economic development. Infrastructure vandalism affects all facets of life and socio-economic development as it negatively affects amongst others electricity supply, rail transport and worst of all the basic necessities of life which is water and sanitation services.

Water infrastructure vandalism leads to serious damages and water leaks that result in massive losses of precious water. We cannot afford water wastage and water losses, especially as South Africa is a water scarce and dry country where every drop counts as water has no substitute.

It is about time that we stand up as a nation and stop this problem that is denying people their basic human rights and taking the country backwards. Infrastructure vandalism is also destroying the country’s economy and has serious socio-economic implications as money meant for new projects to improve people’s lives must then be diverted to fix the infrastructure that is vandalised.

We all need to work together as individuals, communities, the public sector and government to defeat this challenge as infrastructure vandalism does not occur in a vacuum but happens in our communities. We need to take a stand as communities not to tolerate vandalism in any form, even how small it may seem.

Community members need to report any suspicious activities and infrastructure vandalism to the relevant authorities. We must also never allow people to tamper with the water and sanitation infrastructure as this also has negative consequences in water supply and sewer management. Let us all be infrastructure police and safeguard our water and sanitation infrastructure from vandalism and theft.

The private sector, especially scrap metal dealers must also play their role in preventing infrastructure vandalism by not buying and reporting those selling suspicious products. If they don’t buy the materials and report the criminals to the law enforcement authorities, there will be no market for the vandals and our infrastructure will be protected. Law enforcement agencies must also do regular spot checks of these scrap metals dealers to root out corrupt businesses that are fuelling the vandalising of our key infrastructure.

Government, especially local government need to regularly engage, create awareness and update communities regarding water and sanitation services projects to get the communities buy-in and ownership of the projects and prevent infrastructure vandalism which includes illegal connections. Illegal connections are a form of infrastructure vandalism that leaves many people without water and leads to sewer spillages that pollute our water resources. The authorities must therefore ensure that there is adequate security to ensure water and waste water treatment plants are well protected, and prioritize operations and maintenance to ensure the reliable supply of quality water to the communities and to prevent the pollution of water resources.

Law enforcement agencies, including security companies must also work together with communities to root out the vandalism of water and sanitation infrastructure to ensure reliable water supply and the protection of the environment and water resources from pollution. The heartless criminals who vandalise and steal our infrastructure must be removed from society and given hefty sentences.

It is high time that we stand up together and protect our infrastructure. We can no longer look away and let these vandals steal and destroy our infrastructure. It is now time to take action and root out this scourge of vandalism in our communities.

Working together, we can root out the scourge of infrastructure vandalism in our communities, protect our water resources from pollution and ensure water security for the current and future generations.

By Themba Khoza for Communication Services at Mpumalanga Operations Department of Water and Sanitation