Wednesday, April 6, 2011

SA Needs a Major Service

Civil engineers issue worrying report on the state of the country's infrastructure

Apr 5, 2011

This is according to the South African Association of Civil Engineering, which found that while infrastructure provision to urban areas improved dramatically in the past five years, thanks to the soccer World Cup, service infrastructure in rural areas had deteriorated drastically. 

The association released its second report card on infrastructure yesterday. The first was in 2006. Infrastructure received a grading of C, up from a D in 2006. 

This year's report says: "The quality and reliability of basic infrastructure serving the majority of our citizens is poor and, in many places, getting worse. Urgent attention is required to stabilise and improve these." 

The report shows that the ability of the Department of Water Affairs - and by extension municipalities - to deliver clean water to both urban and rural areas has deteriorated dramatically. 

"Users do not pay anywhere near the real costs of water treatment and supply, electricity supply or waste-management services, and this encourages high levels of wastage and civic disrespect for and neglect of infrastructure," the engineers' report reads. 

"Effectively, it encourages squandering of natural resources and burdens future generations with the costs of our currently subsidised services." 

Water infrastructure was getting "harder, if not impossible to repair".
The report highlights the fact that badly maintained bulk infrastructure leads to high levels of pollution, especially in dams and uncontrolled decanting of acid mine drainage. 

"Acid mine drainage north of the Witwatersrand is indicative of the pollution factor, and the long anticipated decant from the western and central Witwatersrand basins is also imminent," the report says.
"The long delay in investigating and providing appropriate infrastructure has revealed serious management shortfalls." 

Over the past three months The Times has written a series of reports highlighting national water problems, including pollution, water theft by farmers, the unsustainability of low water tariffs and that the country will run out of water in a decade. 

The civil engineers say water infrastructure is about 39 years old, with a replacement value of about R139-billion, and that municipalities owe water boards a whopping R1.7-billion. 

They report "serious problems with management of many sewage treatment works. Waste-water leakage and spillage, especially into major rivers, is still too high." 

The report also shows that infrastructure in the health sector has deteriorated

"Serious and systematic capacity failures at hospitals and clinics" are a result of "typical and poor financial and procurement management with little dedicated maintenance resources". 

Maintenance of schools has been limited, resulting in deterioration in all provinces. Unsurprisingly, schools most neglected are in rural areas. 

"Degradation over time means that many schools now need urgent maintenance to ensure environments are suitable for teaching and learning, and to avoid expensive unplanned repairs," the report says. 

Notwithstanding the serious backlogs, significant progress has been made in schools, the report says.
"Schools with overcrowding halved (50% to 24%), schools with electricity doubled (11174 to 20713), water was provided to almost 6000 schools and on-site toilets to almost 2000." 

But the quality of tarred provincial roads, says the report, has declined significantly over time.
"Shortages of skilled personnel in provincial departments, inadequate funding and outdated systems, and the lack of routine and periodic maintenance have contributed to the current condition." 

Paved metropolitan and district and municipal roads are classified as "satisfactory" and "fair", respectively. 

Maintenance of gravel roads in provinces, metros and municipalities is described as poor.
The SA National Roads Agency and the Airports Company of South Africa and Ports have performed exceptionally well, according to the report.
Eskom's generation and long-distance transmission infrastructure performed "better than average". 

But local distribution by municipalities is described as "below standard and poor"

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